Health Technology and EMS: ASPR Launches Campaign to Improve Pre-Hospital Care

Getting a complete and accurate picture of a patient’s medical history is a challenge under normal circumstances, but it is even more difficult – and even more important – in an emergency.  Take, for example, a fairly common occurrence.  A woman falls and breaks her arm.  Someone calls 9-1-1 and an ambulance arrives.  An emergency medical technician (EMT) or paramedic provides treatment and transports her to the emergency department (ED) where she gets an x-ray and a cast.  After leaving the ED, she follows up with an orthopedic surgeon and receives treatment from a physical therapist. 

Each of these providers creates a record, and there’s a pretty good chance those records are electronic. However, in many cases these systems aren’t integrated – and for emergency medical services (EMS) it’s virtually all cases – making it difficult to get a complete picture of the patient’s medical history or health needs.

But what would a connected and interoperable emergency care system look like?

This question was posed to a group of members from the EMS, emergency care, and health information technology (IT) communities at a meeting hosted in February by ASPR’s Emergency Care Coordination Center in conjunction with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

EMS is both the gateway to and an integral part of the healthcare system. Currently, few EMS systems are connected to a health information exchange or other electronic health/medical records system. There are many challenges to sharing of EMS data, including funding, proprietary systems, and a lack of collaboration.

It’s our hope that EMS will become a full participant in the electronic exchange of health information. This would entail the regular and secure two-way exchange between EMS and other health care facilities and payers.

Improving the current system will lead to more efficient transitions of care, integration of EMS into the health care system, and better patient outcomes and experiences.  It will also improve resilience in the face of disasters and other disruptions of our healthcare system.

During the meeting, members of the EMS and health IT communities openly discussed their experiences and successes, while identifying innovative ideas, potential business use cases and pilot projects for the future. Attendees also identified current challenges and issues and brainstormed solutions related to the incorporation of health IT in the pre-hospital environment.

As a result of this stakeholder engagement, we are excited to announce the launch of the ASPR Collaboration Community campaign on IdeaScale.

The community’s first campaign, Health Information Technology and EMS External Links Disclaimer, is focused on the issue of health IT in the pre-hospital environment. It provides interested stakeholders a place to connect and continue the discussion on issues and successes surrounding connectivity to the new health information exchanges.

You can access the collaboration community at External Links Disclaimer to participate in our first campaign. Please check out our current campaign and subscribe to this campaign to receive updates as new ideas are posted.

Please note: The ASPR Collaboration Community IdeaScale website is not for the purpose of advising ASPR or the U.S. government. Rather, it is available for all as a means to share insights and experiences so that others might benefit from those experiences and the resulting knowledge.


  1. R Troy says:

    I’m a member of a volunteer ambulance corp, and it is very clear that EMS to ER communication is primitive at best. A PCR (patient care report) is filled out (sometimes readable) and handed in at the ER, and on the way the ambulance crew radios in to the ER with a preliminary report but no identifying info. On arrival further reporting and handover is done. This process does little to populate EHRs or even to pass on info to the doctor who eventually does followup treatment for the patient, let alone to the primary care physician for the patient. It also wastes time and may lead to repeat testing and imaging. Also, the crew may do further reports to regional medical control agencies by phone and fax.

    As a rep from a nearby hospital pointed out, this process does not really prepare the receiving hospital for the patient. Imagine, for instance, that the patient needs to go to the cath lab. Medcon gets a radio’d image of the EKG, and MAY fax it to the ER. Great. But it’s not enough typically to call in the cath lab staff and get them ready for the patient. This hospital noted that they want the crew to be able to properly pass on the EKG to the ER for evaluation and if needed routing to the cath lab – with the patient actually bypassing the ER.

    • KimN says:

      This is the beauty of Health Information Exchange. Care teams have the right information at the right time. Imagine how many handoffs and duplicative efforts could be avoided – ER staff would not have to transcribe the EMT’s report, but could instead (someday) import the information into the local EMR. As you mentioned, vital diagnostic services could be ready and waiting when the patient arrives. A short assessment by the medical team and then they are off to CT or cath lab. I really hope this work catches fire and advances, quickly. I work in ambulatory care on our org’s HIE team, and have already seen the many benefits of health information exchange between our organizations and our local hospitals.

  2. Cheryl Anderson says:

    What about patient transport? I am a critical care transport nurse. I move critically ill patients from one facility to another and work for a private ambulance transport company. I’m trying to find out if there are EHR products out there that are designed for transport. We are like an ICU on wheels and are expected to maintain the same level of patient care (or as close to as possible) that would be expected in any ICU or ER. Are there products designed for this area that would give us access to a patients hospital EHR while they are in our care? I see plenty of EMS charting products but we are not EMS…

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