Andrew Patton and Andy O'Toole. EMS Feedback, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2020. Available at:
Prehospital practitioners have an ever-expanding role in managing the acutely unwell and injured patient. Despite this large contribution to patient care, the majority of practitioners find it very challenging to followup or get feedback on their management of the patient.
To all hospital staff who refuse to give paramedics clinical updates because “it’s a privacy breach”: it isn’t. Prehospital providers are part of the team caring for the patient and are entitled to feedback on patient outcomes. https://t.co/OTk9IfKbuY— David Anderson (@expensivecare) August 1, 2020
The recent publication of the NEMSMA position paper regarding bi-directional information sharing between hospitals and EMS agencies sparked debate on Twitter about the challenges of EMS Feedback.
Gunderson, M.R., Florin, A., Price, M. and Reed, J., 2020. NEMSMA Position Statement and White Paper: Process and Outcomes Data Sharing between EMS and Receiving Hospitals. Prehospital Emergency Care, pp.1-7.
What was the paper about?
The NEMSMA Position statement and White Paper focuses on the bi-directional sharing of data between EMS agencies and receiving hospitals. The authors looked at the challenges EMS agencies face getting feedback data regarding patient outcomes, propose best practices for bi-directional data sharing and explore the current barriers to data exchange.
The paper highlights the importance of receiving feedback and patient outcome data for quality assurance and improvement (QA/QI). Among other things, feedback is necessary for EMS providers to determine if clinical diagnoses in the field were correct, if pre-arrival notifications were effective and if the destination choice was appropriate.
The authors surmise that with confusing and complicated healthcare law, hospitals can be reluctant to “share information due to consequences of unintentional violations” of healthcare law, and fears of liability, many of which are misconceptions.
They report that…
“Many of the commonly held legal concerns preventing data exchange are misunderstandings and unfounded fears. While all regulations and laws need to be adequately addressed, legal issues should not preclude properly conducted sharing of electronic health records for quality improvement.”
Technology also creates a number of barriers to data sharing, in particular poor interoperability between EMS electronic patient care records (ePCR) and hospital electronic healthcare records (EHR). The absence of a universal patient identification value is another significant obstacle.
The authors reference information blocking and market competition between hospitals as two of the big political and economic barriers which can be among the most challenging to overcome.
They conclude by recommending a collaborative effort between EMS agencies and hospitals to develop and implement bilateral data exchange policies which would benefit all stakeholders.
This paper focuses mainly on data sharing at an organisational level, it is very relevant to the difficulties faced by individual pre-hospital practitioners trying to follow-up on patients they treat at a local level.
Why is this so important?
As discussed in the paper, feedback is an important part of quality improvement. For individual practitioners, feedback is a vital part of the learning cycle. Feedback is essential for us to learn from our mistakes, and to improve our practice. To improve any performance, it is necessary to measure it. A practitioner that never follows up on a patient’s outcome will be left assuming that their treatment for the presenting complaint was accurate and warranted. They will likely continue to treat the same presentation in the same way in the future because their experience has never been challenged by facts that could have been discovered during patient follow up.
Without feedback we could be unconsciously incompetent… We don’t know what we don’t know!
What’s the difficulty?
On an individual level, obtaining feedback and patient follow-up is challenging for EMS crews for a variety of reasons. In a local survey of 98 prehospital practitioners in Dublin, Ireland, only 21% of practitioners reported being able to follow-up interesting cases.
With dynamic deployment of EMS Resources, crews might transport a patient to a hospital and not return to that same hospital during their shift. If a crew does manage to find an opportunity to call back to the hospital, frequently the diagnostic work-up may be incomplete, and a working diagnosis still unclear. EDs are busy environments and, understandably, some practitioners may feel uncomfortable stopping a doctor or nurse to follow-up on a previous patient.
Calling back a few days later has its own complications; often there will be different staff working in the department who may not have been involved in the patient’s care. This method may work for the high-acuity resus presentations, but that ‘child with shortness of breath’ whose physical exam you were unsure of, or the child with a seizure who had a subtle weakness… the chances of the Emergency Department (ED) staff remembering their diagnosis or outcome is slim!
Phoning the ED or ward is a route explored by many practitioners, but is fraught with increasing difficulty due to reluctance of staff to give out patient information over the phone fearing confidentiality issues.
So how do we address this challenge?
Focusing specifically on providing feedback to individual pre-hospital practitioners, there are multiple potential ways to provide prehospital practitioners with follow-up information and feedback, but you need to consider what system will work best for your individual department, ensuring patient confidentiality and data security.
The pre-hospital postbox
St. Vincent’s University Hospital is a tertiary referral hospital in Dublin, Ireland with approximately 60,000 annual attendances. Inspired by Linda Dykes and her team’s PHEM postbox at Ysbyty Gwynedd Emergency Department in Bangor, Wales, we set-up the Pre-Hospital Post Box in St. Vincent’s University Hospital Emergency Department in August 2017.
We engaged local prehospital clinicians and ED consultants to develop an SOP. A postbox was built and mounted by the carpentry department. Using a template from Bangor, a feedback request form was developed. Finally, the service was advertised in the emergency department, local Ambulance and Fire Stations and we were open for business.
Prehospital clinicians seeking feedback on a case complete a form and place it in the post-box. The case notes are reviewed by an EM doctor and feedback is provided by phone call.
To ensure patient confidentiality, feedback is only provided to practitioners directly involved with the patient care. A triple-check procedure is used to confirm this. The practitioner’s pin number on the request form is verified on the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council (PHECC) register and against the patient care record. The listed phone number is also verified through practitioners known to us or the local Ambulance Officer.
Other hospitals use systems providing feedback via encrypted email accounts or posted letters.We elected to use a phone call system, the primary reason was the anecdotal reports that many of our pre-hospital staff don’t have easy access to work email accounts. We also anticipated that a phone call would be more likely to facilitate a case discussion and allow paramedics to ask questions that might arise during the discussion.
Challenges with this system?
Providing feedback to prehospital practitioners is a very time-consuming and labour intensive job, particularly in hospital systems where the majority of clinical documentation is still paper-based. In our own system, where handwritten ED notes are scanned, radiology, labs and discharge letters are available on-line, and in-patient notes are handwritten physical charts – we’ve found the average time required to collate details for the feedback request is just 9 minutes, with a feedback phone call averaging 5 minutes per call.
To successfully upscale this would require a team of doctors or a rota based system with allocated non-clinical time to answer requests. Alternatively a digital solution allowing paramedics to access the data themselves, or facilitating the physician managing the case to reply directly would make it more feasible but may generate further challenges.
The ideal, as discussed in the NEMSMA paper, would be an organisational process, with the automatic provision of discharge summaries and test results by hospitals to EMS agencies which would provide useful organisational data, and subsequent feedback to individual EMS practitioners.
GDPR / Data Protection Considerations
Patient confidentiality and data protection are of utmost importance in an EMS Feedback System. The system implemented needs to have robust mechanisms, such as our triple-check, to ensure that feedback is only provided to healthcare professionals directly involved in the patient’s care.
It is also important that it is compliant with data protection legislation in your locality, such as General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) introduced in Europe in 2018. Our EMS feedback system is an important mechanism for us to review the care and treatment provided to patients and allows us to assist pre-hospital practitioners in evaluating and improving the safety of our pre-hospital services, which is provided for in the “HSE Privacy Notice – Patients & Service Users”
Providing EMS Feedback, in its current form, is a labour intensive process but we believe it is a worthwhile initiative. It is greatly appreciated by Pre-Hospital Practitioners and it enables them to enhance their diagnostic performance and develop their clinical practice.
If you’d like to find out more about how to set up a Pre-Hospital Post Box in your ED, have a look at these resources…
Patton A, Menzies D. Feedback for pre-hospital practitioners: is there an appetite? Poster session presented at: 2017 Annual Scientific Meeting of the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine; 2017 Oct 19-20; Galway, Ireland.
Gunderson MR ,Florin A , Price M & Reed J.(2020): NEMSMA Position Statement and White Paper: Process and Outcomes DataSharing between EMS and Receiving Hospitals, Prehospital Emergency Care, https://doi.org/10.1080/10903127.2020.1792017
Croskerry P. The feedback sanction. Acad Emerg Med. 2000;7:1232-8.
Jenkinson E, Hayman T, Bleetman A. Clinical feedback to ambulance crews: supporting professional development. Emerg Med J. 2009;26:309.
Patton A, Menzies D. Case feedback requests from pre-hospital practitioners – what do they want to know? Meeting Abstracts: London Trauma Conference, London Cardiac Arrest Symposium, London Pre-hospital Care Conference 2018. Scand J Trauma Resusc Emerg Med 27, 66 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13049-019-0639-x
Patton A, Menzies D. Feedback for pre-hospital practitioners – a quality improvement initiative. Meeting Abstracts: London Trauma Conference, London Cardiac Arrest Symposium, London Pre-hospital Care Conference 2018. Scand J Trauma Resusc Emerg Med 27, 66 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13049-019-0639-x
O’Sullivan J. HSE Privacy Notice – Patients & Service Users v1.2. 2020 Feb, Accessed on-line: https://www.hse.ie/eng/gdpr/hse-data-protection-policy/hse-privacynotice-service-users.pdf