Activating EMS: What You May Not Know

Activating EMS: What You May Not Know

Medical emergencies, by their very nature, are unpredictable. Certainly, there are situations in which the likelihood of one occurring is higher than normal, but a medical emergency can happen anywhere, at any time.

This randomness sheds a light on why the resources needed to deal with a medical emergency are not readily available when one occurs. Typically, it is the activation of an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system by an untrained or minimally trained bystander that initiates the process to get professional help and resources to those in need.

In 2003, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) identified in the First There, First Care campaign that expanded EMS systems and better public education on the activation of EMS were key to improving the effectiveness of emergency response.

That challenge was taken on, and for almost all of us, the emergency medical services systems we live within have been, and continue to be, improved.

In the United States, 9-1-1 has been designated as the easy-to-remember telephone number to call in an emergency, routing automatically to the EMS system responsible for the location of the emergency. The 9-1-1 concept is continuously evolving, currently being expanded to deal with new communication technologies that allow for voice, photos, video, and texting capability.

Regarding the bigger picture, let’s make a critical point here: If anyone suspects a medical emergency has occurred, activating EMS is likely the most important and influential action to take. Arguably, for most situations, it may be the only action necessary to result in an effective overall response to the problem.

As a benefit, we are able to provide a simple and clear statement in emergency care training… if you suspect a medical emergency has occurred, activate EMS.

However, a bit more detail may provide a better understanding about why this simple statement is possible and to help build your confidence in getting involved in a medical emergency. Here are some basic concepts you should know:

When in doubt, activate EMS – Even if a suspected emergency turns out to be a non-emergency, it doesn’t matter. The burden of actually determining whether or not an emergency has occurred is the responsibility of the system and not the caller. It is okay to be proven wrong.
Don’t hang up – EMS system call-takers are trained to take charge of an emergency call and guide the person calling to quickly identify what the emergency is, where it is located, and details about it.
Help is already on the way – EMS resources are typically dispatched early on during an emergency call through the use of automation, or by another person at the call center. Vehicles with trained EMS providers can get enroute while the call-taker is still receiving essential information from the caller.
They can tell you what to do – Another helpful aspect that has been getting more focus lately is the ability of the call-taker to provide simple bystander care instructions for immediate life-threatening problems, such as compression-only CPR for sudden cardiac arrest and the control of severe bleeding.
Only activate EMS when you suspect an emergency – When in doubt, activate EMS, but understand it is only to be used when an emergency is suspected. It is NOT designed for providing information, taking complaints, or access to non-emergency resources.
All of our core CPR and first aid training’s include a specific lesson on activating EMS that incorporates much of the above information.