Embrace Change to Stay on the Leading Edge of the EMS Profession

It’s an exciting time to be in EMS. The healthcare system is rapidly changing and the future of our industry is unknown. In these times of uncertainty, there are usually one of two directions organization leaders can take:

1. Do nothing and hope life returns to normal; or
2. Lead their organizations through the change and come out ahead. (These are the organizations that will survive and thrive.)

In response to those who make the first choice, please reconsider. “Hope” isn’t a good long-term success strategy.

For those who make the second choice, let’s discuss the best way to stay on the leading edge of success. First of all, let’s stop making decisions in a vacuum. You may be the best leader on the planet, but when you say “go,” you don’t want your followers charging the wrong hill.

Gut feelings and bluffing only have limited success–even at the poker table. You don’t want to gamble foolishly with your organization and its employees.

We need information to effectively lead our organizations through substantial change. National Hockey League great Wayne Gretzky said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” We need to do the same with our organizations.

It’s easier said than done when no one can see into the future. However, there are steps we can take to better understand our profession and help decide our next moves.

Collect data. Most EMS systems today collect tremendous amounts of data across multiple software platforms. Scheduling software, electronic patient care reports, accounting systems, fleet and supply management tools, and a host of other software solutions generate more data than we can effectively evaluate. The challenge is condensing all these data points into useful information for you to make educated decisions.

NEMSIS is a data repository for EMS systems. To date it has more than 34 million records that are available to query. NEMSIS 3.x promises to be Health Level 7 compliant, meaning it can interface with hospital electronic medical records. This will finally make it possible for EMS agencies to receive hospital patient outcome data and better help us evaluate how effectively we impact patient care. This also provides us more meaningful data to analyze and put to work, and could provide the information EMS needs to better understand our impact and integrate into the health care system.

Measure performance. To move from data collection to useful information, we must evaluate our data for accuracy and measure our performance. Is an intubation attempt anytime the blade enters the mouth or when one tries to pass a tube? Without these definitions, our performance measures (intubation success rate in this case) will be flawed. Establish standardized performance measures across all aspects of your organization to ensure you’re measuring the right things from your data.

Create benchmarks and standards. Compare your performance measures to others. Once several agencies are collecting and measuring data the same way, we can effectively compare our organization. With enough involvement, industry standards can soon develop. To know where we stand, we must collect and evaluate data and measure our performance. The difference in future success or failure may depend on how well we do our current tasks and fulfill our responsibilities. We can’t manage what we don’t measure.

Continuously improve. There’s always room for improvement. Don’t accept the status quo as “good enough.” Adopting a culture of continuous improvement will give your agency the mindset it needs to improve.

Study related industries. As EMS changes, we may get clues about how to proceed by looking at different industries. Other professions have experienced similar challenges and required change.

Develop a plan. Once we have the data, the measures and understanding of the industry, we’re ready to make educated decisions. Armed with knowledge, you can better justify your actions and arguably have a better chance for success.

Implement the plan. A plan without action is just a dream. To make it reality, a good leader will allocate the necessary resources to get the job done in the timeline defined.

Evaluate results. Once the plan is implemented, continuously evaluate to determine if you’re achieving the anticipated results. If you are, hold the course. If not, it’s time to regroup and study further to see if early assumptions may have been flawed or if there was a misstep in the plan or implementation.

Being the leader isn’t easy. There’s risk everywhere you turn. With the proper tools and plan, these risks can be calculated and the chance for reward improved. Preparing for and embracing change will keep your organization on the leading edge of the profession. Your patients, your team and your community deserve the best you can provide.

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