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5 Tips for Moving to a Combined EMS/Fire Software Solution

“We are, for the first time in our existence, on one single program so it’s been pretty neat to come together as a group and start dialing this in,” said Scott Draper, Deputy Chief of EMS for Northwest Fire District (NWFD) in Tucson, Ariz. NWFD responds to approximately 13,500 calls annually, servicing 144 square miles.

How many different software solutions do you use daily? Once you take the time to count, the number may surprise you. Now, consider how much time it has taken you to learn each system and train others to use it just as well. The thought of it is daunting. Imagine now that you’re a provider at a combined EMS and fire service, and you need to know multiple systems so well that you can use them without thinking when you’re on a call. It’s not easy – and you need it to be, especially when a patient’s life or a burning structure are at stake.

So why not make that part of your life and the lives of your medics or firefighters a bit easier?

Chris Hughes, an analyst from Bellingham Fire Department – a mid-size organization in Washington with about 18,000 runs annually – explains why they looked for a software solution that combined their ePCR and RMS. According to Hughes, “We knew we wanted a better system than what we had.” They set out with three goals in mind:

Goal 1. To have an all-in-one system. “I had seen the pain we had in the current system and in other systems where you have an ePCR that looks completely different than the RMS system that looks completely different than the reporting engine and anytime you have any actors move between the two, it was a completely separate training task.”

Goal 2. The ability to get data out and do analytics behind it. “This goes back to the all-in-one system – I didn’t want to have to set up interfaces between RMS and ePCR and CAD and all of these single things – I just wanted a [single] system.”

Goal 3. A completely web-based platform. “For me being the backend of that [in IT], I didn’t want software to install and I wanted cheaper hardware.”

Here are five tips for combining your EMS and fire software solutions:

  1. Evaluate how your providers use the current systems and make lists. Take time to meet with the crews that work in the field, the administration staff, the super-users, the chiefs – all staff that use the current system and will use the new system. Get a feel for what they like and don’t like, and what would make their role easier. Hughes says, “They are the ones who are using it every day. Talk about what their pain points are… Let them play with it. You’ll find that your high level might want to get this data out, but you’ll never get it if your crews hate putting it in.”

    Based upon your evaluation of the current systems, develop a “need to have” list for functionality that is vital to the new system and a “wish” list for functions that would be nice to have, but are not necessary to department operations.

    Additionally, be sure that all stakeholders understand the goals of the project and what they hope to accomplish. Hughes recommends, “Document your goals up front… when you have a process that comes along that can take as long as an implementation like this, people lose sight of their goals… it’s easy to get excited about shiny objects.”

  2. Understand your relationship with other providers in the area. Have a clear understanding of how you interact with other providers in your area. In addition to selecting a vendor that combines your ePCR and RMS into one system, you may want to work with one that offers the unique ability to share data or system templates among agencies. Questions to consider could include:

    • Do you share run reports with other EMS agencies?
    • Do you service the same area as other agencies?
    • Do you need the same information captured on the run form or the same reports submitted?
    • How often do you need to call other agencies to reconcile reports?

    Similarly, analyze your agency’s relationship with hospitals you transport to; look at your current process for sharing the run report, and outline the benefits and challenges. Do your medics print off a paper copy or fax it? Sharing that data electronically simplifies the process for medics, allows hospitals to prepare for incoming patients, reduces data entry errors and promotes clean outcome data to share with agencies. Draper states, “It’s so important for our paramedics to get that information back and get closure.”

  3. Select a vendor that offers true flexibility and ease of use. The system you use needs to be easy to use – medics need to have quick, easy access to the information they need to enter fast. From the field, this could mean pick lists instead of typing the data, visual validation tracking, viewing only the fields applicable to the current call, having data prefilled based on dispatch or previous interactions with the patient.

    “For a lot of reasons, trying to get fire crews to decide how they want it to look right now and come up with a set of requirements [is difficult]. We had lots of vendors that said ‘we’ll make it look like how you want.’ We don’t know. We don’t know what it’s going to look like now. We don’t know what it’s going to look like in five years,” said Hughes, “We want to be able to change it and move it around, and if someone six months in says ‘I really want this to have a different name,’ that it’s just a quick thing to change. Those little things that may not seem like much are huge to operations.”

    When you are looking at solutions, though, it is important to understand that the whole system, not just the run form, needs to be intuitive, easy to use and flexible. The solution you choose should operate based upon user, role and rights. Permission-based access provides for secure views and use, ensuring full access only for those who need it.

  4. Try it out. Take the proposed solution for a “test drive,” per se. A lot can be gleaned from even a short amount of time spent exploring a software solution. Each stakeholder is likely looking for different must-haves within the system, so give each a chance to play with it. What’s important to the crew in the field may not be what’s important to the administrative staff.

    “Do your work. Do your due diligence. Make sure you get a lot of buy-in… Make sure your medics like the form, use the form,” Draper recommends, “It’s been really important for us to get buy-in from our crews – the folks on the streets using the product.”

  5. Have long term goals. Your agency, processes and standards are not static; they evolve based on new insights, changing standards or revised strategies. Choose a vendor that allows you to grow and expand into more areas. Consider what you may want to accomplish in the future. Could your community benefit from a mobile integrated healthcare/community paramedicine program? How could outcome data impact prehospital patient care? Is there an epidemic in your community? What information could you glean from alerting or trend analysis?

    Your agency may not be ready to introduce new programs or processes now, but might be in the future. Whether you are looking to expand in the near future or down the road, it’s important to work with a vendor that understands your goals and can help you accomplish them.

As you review your current software solutions and look for efficiencies, be sure to understand the needs of your department and how medics or firefighters use the system in the field. Interoperability is not a thing of the future – it can be accomplished now, starting with combining your ePCR and RMS management and datasets into one system.