The Importance of Data in Emergency Medical Services
If there is one thing that has had a profound influence on health care in the last decade, it’s data. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, data has become more important than ever before, with information about patients, treatments and other aspects of the delivery system analyzed and interpreted with the ultimate goal of improving the quality and cost-effectiveness of care.
While emergency medical services have not been significantly impacted by the world of data-driven quality assessments and reimbursements, many experts in the field predict that day is coming. However, even though data collection and analysis aren’t a defining factor in terms of reimbursements on a federal level yet, it’s a key aspect of giving emergency services providers and agencies, as well as the entire industry, vital information that they need to make solid, evidence-based decisions to provide the best possible care and demonstrate their value to all payers.
According to a recent survey by the National Association of Emergency Technicians, close to 75 percent of EMS providers use ePCR to electronically collect information on over 400 data points related to patient care, including demographic information, clinical processes and outcomes, payer information, costs, patient safety, and more. This information is then analyzed, and often shared, to identify areas where protocols are working — and not working — to improve the quality of services.
For EMS administrators who earned a degree in emergency medical services administration, working with data has become an important skillset, as managers are now expected to not only supervise the collection of data, but the interpretation and application of the insights from that data. In fact, in a 2013 piece in EMS World, Alex Garza MD, MPH noted that data is vital to advancing the profession of EMS.
“Data is also important because of what it conveys about maturity and professionalism,” said Garza. “For EMS to become truly accepted as a profession, it will continually have to prove itself — and the only way to do this is through data . . . ultimately data still drives decision-making and is the only way to improve processes, prove value and provide protection.”
So, what can data really do for EMS, then?
Putting Data to Work
Imagine that you are an EMS provider in a small urban area. As you respond to cardiac arrest calls, you notice that there are almost always bystanders nearby. Anecdotally, you notice that in cases where the bystanders knew how to respond to the cardiac arrest, and were able to begin CPR, the patient outcomes were better. So, you begin collecting some information about the bystanders at the scene, specifically related to their CPR training and knowledge. Soon, a pattern emerges: In the areas where CPR training is readily available, in particular those ZIP codes where you’ve concentrated outreach, the cardiac arrest survival rates are much higher than those where there hasn’t been any outreach.
If you are an EMS provider in Jackson, Mississippi, you don’t have to imagine such a scenario, as this exact thing happened. When EMS began asking bystanders questions, they quickly learned that in the areas where they conducted outreach, the outcomes were more favorable, a fact that allowed them to expand their efforts.
Collecting EMS data can do a lot more than simply measure the effectiveness of an educational outreach program, though. Some of the other benefits of data in this field include:
- Information about the effectiveness of existing protocols and processes. By examining ePCRs to evaluate the effectiveness of what they are doing, EMS can identify problems and whether solutions or changes are having the desired effect.
- Evidence of the effectiveness of specific interventions.
- Evidence of the value of EMS. As an administrator, you will likely need to justify expenditures. When you can provide concrete data regarding the value of specific tools and equipment, that task becomes less burdensome.
- Improved billing. With complete and accurate documentation of the services provided, EMS providers can prepare more accurate bills and claims to insurance providers, thus ensuring that they aren’t missing out on earned revenues.
- Better information sharing. It’s been said that data is only valuable when it’s shared, and the data collected by your agency could prove invaluable for other providers. For example, data collected in relation to fatal accidents in ambulances revealed that those working in the trucks unrestrained were significantly more likely to die in crashes than those using seat belts or other restraints. This information was shared among EMS providers, improving safety for the whole industry.
As you might imagine, there are some challenges to data collection in EMS. For starters, collecting and recording information in the field isn’t always practical, and some EMS providers resent the idea of completing so much paperwork at the end of their shifts, using hastily scribbled notes for reference. The technological side of the data capture and analysis also brings challenges, as does concerns about how the data is being used. However, as data becomes a cornerstone of modern life and health care, it only makes sense that EMS begin tapping into the value of information. EMS administrators need to be prepared to lead this revolution.