The citizens of your community are your clients, but in many ways, whatever agency you work for, they're your employers too. It's easy to understand that with public systems, but even private services operate at the discretion of the public and their elected representatives, who set the rules for delivering emergency medical care in their jurisdictions. Ultimately, you answer to them.
Yet often, members of the public don't understand who their EMS providers are, how they operate and what they exist to do. Members of third services are confused with firefighters. Public departments are assumed to have unlimited resources. Sick people don't understand the limitations of scopes of practice and why you can't do more for them, or discount the hours of training and years of experience you've amassed and treat you as little more than a chauffeur to the real care. Everyone expects the miraculous outcomes they've seen on TV.
Educating them can be hard, because there's no simple way to reach people, and because systems can vary so much in structure and form. As the saying goes, if you've seen one EMS system, you've seen one EMS system. But that's exactly why it's so important to work to reach out, inform people and raise their awareness of your organization and all it can do.
They're your patients: Many people don't understand the function of the 9-1-1 system or the full extent of your capabilities. Education campaigns concerning the proper, emergency-only use of 9-1-1 and the engagement of alternatives for nonemergency needs (clinics, primary care physicians, etc.) can help them help themselves appropriately--and that benefits you in EMS. Similarly, they should understand your lifesaving capabilities in true emergencies and know it's important to call you quickly for things like cardiac arrest, heart attack and stroke. They need education as surely as you do.
They're your clients: Increasingly, systems are reaching out with public health and social service type interventions for repeat callers who don't have emergency needs. By connecting individually with these people and assessing their real problems, EMS providers can help link them to appropriate solutions and reduce their burden on the system and their suffering as well.
They're your funders: When they're directly controlling your purse strings, voters need to know they're getting value. They need outstanding care, whatever their emergency, from well-prepared, well-equipped providers. They also value any nonemergency care you can offer through things like blood pressure screenings, safety awareness education and other types of outreach. Show them how much their funding you buys, and you might see more funding.
They're your colleagues: Think about how much the public can actually assist you in what you do. Even beyond joining up or volunteering, there are many illnesses and injuries where fast bystander action can help save a life. Think CPR for cardiac arrest or bleeding control in major trauma. Make sure they appreciate that they can make a difference, then teach them how. That benefits everyone.
They're their own best defense: Forewarned is forearmed, and EMS providers are uniquely positioned to help inform citizens how to protect themselves. Teaching basic safety and other precautions endears you to citizens and mitigates their problems you'll eventually face.
There are lots of good reasons, financial and practical, to reach out and connect with the public this EMS Week. Read on for some ideas on how.