We know Emergency Medical Services (EMS) as the local firefighters, volunteer rescue personnel and regional ambulance transport services that respond to car accidents, at-home mishaps, heart attacks, strokes and other medical emergencies in public places. EMS   responds when we call 9-1-1, provides preliminary medical care while en route to the hospital, then leaves us in the hands of the medical professionals there. Job done. 

But not for long. As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s Health Information Exchange, EMS will no longer play an accessory role to the national health care system. Instead, EMS will be a central player as the information exchange hub between patient and hospital, and as a provider of improved patient care within the entire health care network. Since September is National Disaster Preparedness Month, it’s important to recognize EMS’ expanded set of duties as Obamacare is set into motion.

Through the implementation of the Health Information Exchange (HIE), hospitals, clinicians and patients will all use health information technology to achieve measurable improvements in healthcare quality, safety, efficiency and population health, according to the Journal of Emergency Medical Services. Medical professionals nationwide will incorporate advanced digital technology for the HIE. This will mobilize healthcare information electronically across organizations within a region, community or hospital system to create access to and retrieval of clinical data to provide safer and more timely, efficient, effective, and equitable patient-centered care.

In so doing, EMS will: …Send electrocardiograms (ECGs) from EMS monitors to the “EMS hub” and hospital emergency department staff, so cardiologists will be able to see them before patients arrive. EMS providers will achieve faster door-to-balloon times and better outcomes for cardiac patients. This will also lead to greater integration of EMS into emergency care and set the stage for stroke alerts or other time-sensitive medical conditions.  …Send patient records electronically in real-time bursts to receiving hospitals, resulting in better resource management and emergency department preparation for when the patient arrives.  …Receive critical patient information in the field, so EMS personnel can have patient hospital histories, medications, allergies and medical information available at the scene of the medical emergency.  …Achieve faster ambulance turnaround times since crews will have a majority of their reports auto-populated from the EMS hub, so they’ll spend less time charting at the hospital. The hospital will also be able to receive pre-hospital patient information more efficiently, resulting in faster and higher quality documentation.

Improved quality assurance is expected as emergency room diagnosis and patient outcome information will be available to EMS providers. EMS care will become more of an extension of the emergency room instead of a drop-off transport service.

JEMS reports, “Patient care now will now truly begin in the field, and EMS will be a part of the total healthcare delivery system. EMS will be held to a higher standard as it becomes more integrated with the evolving continuum of emergency care and response.”

Even if naysayers in Congress get their way and manage to de-fund Obamacare in the short term, the tsunami of technological advances and the overwhelming need to reinvent health care delivery and disaster preparedness in the U.S. will inevitably bring about these necessary advancements and coordination of electronic data flow, with EMS in the center of it all.