Sunday, July 15, 2012

EMTs and the Future of Health Care 

Recent articles in the hospital literature about Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT’s) remind me of a personal experience that may be instructive for health care in the future. 

Some years ago, when I was still in the process of learning how to manage my diabetes, I had an episode of severe hypoglycemia.  Noting that I was behaving strangely in the night, wife Marilyn tried to wake me up but was unable to do so.  She called 911 and within minutes the local emergency response team arrived.  The senior technician quickly sized up the situation and tested my blood sugar level.  Finding it dangerously low, she gave me an infusion of sugar and, after a few seconds, commanded me to wake up, which I did. 

I believe that qualifies as a life-threatening experience.  Had I not been given the sugar, I presume I would have died. 

But I was saved by a health care provider who was not a physician.  It was an EMT who made the diagnosis, decided on a treatment, and administered it.  Had she personally charged and collected a fee, I believe what she did would qualify as the practice of medicine.   

I have had other experiences with EMTs, all fully satisfactory. 

It reminds me that in all the discussion about the quality of health care, I have heard no questions raised about the quality of care provided by EMTs. 

I know that there are an ever increasing number of Physician’s Assistants and Nurse Practitioners involved in health care.  But my experience with EMTs causes me to wonder how much more of what doctors do might be done equally well – or even better - by people who have much less training and command much lower incomes.  Maybe that could be part of the solution to the cost problem and also provide jobs for the middle class. 

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