Reducing Responder & Patient Injuries at the National EMS Safety Summit

The National EMS Safety Summit held annually in Denver provides attendees with a phenomenal opportunity to learn and network with some of the best EMS leaders in safety and risk management.

One of the pre-conference classes was all about reducing injuries to not only EMS providers, but also to patients.

The class took a critical look at the EMS profession and asked, “Why does injury occur?” What attendees took away are four key principles that can help all EMTs and EMS departments reduce their exposure to injury, risk, patient handling mistakes and ultimately pain experienced by providers.

  1. To move well, first you have to move well: Move well and move often was the takeaway. The mantra that was taught is both simple yet profound: “To move things well (patients, gear, equipment) first you have to move well.” This is accomplished by beginning of shift stretching (“check off the truck, check off your body”), then by using mobility tools such as foam rollers to improve mobility while reducing pain. As A.J. Heightman said during his Thursdays seminar, what we eat matters, and this sentiment was echoed strongly when we discussed the importance of hydration, clean eating and a healthy diet, as this directly ties into both overall wellness and reducing injury through improved physical resiliency.
  2. Change the lift height: The second key takeaway was to avoid ever having to put your hands on the floor to lift. Attendees were taught to “use a tool; stop being the tool.” Use a device like a soft stretcher to change your lift height while also reducing the risk of dropping or injuring the patient during the lift or transfer.
  3. Reduce friction and trunk angle: The third key risk management step was to reduce friction (bed-to-bed transfers and drags) and limit how much you have to flex forward at the trunk. We know that friction adds resistance, and the more you have to lean over the more load your spine has to take. Attendees learned that using a soft stretcher or even a slide board will drastically reduce both friction and trunk angle.
  4. Use your patient transport tools as they were designed: The final injury reduction point for both patient and provider is to understand the difference between load vs. transport height with X-frame stretchers. The higher the stretcher is, the more unstable it becomes. The number one cause of dropped stretchers is moving them at the highest position (load height). We all know never to roll the stretcher sideways, but many providers have not been taught the importance of transport height.

To keep the presentation actionable, attendees were taught that “the heavier the patient, the more varied the terrain or environment, the lower the stretcher has to go.” In fact, with bariatric patients the stretcher should be moved all the way on the ground where it is the strongest and has the lowest chance of tipping.