Category Archives: Clinical

Clinical implications in EMS

Pay-for-performance in EMS?

There has been much discussion regarding reimbursement models for health services, and two main themes have emerged, the historical fee-for-service model and a quality-driven pay-for-performance model (Institute of Medicine, Committee on Redesigning Health Insurance Performance Measures, Payments and Performance Improvements Staff, 2007). While many providers argue that the reimbursement level is currently too low to sustain operations (Institute of Medicine, Committee on Redesigning Health Insurance Performance Measures, Payments and Performance Improvements Staff, 2007), patient advocates cite an overwhelming number of medical mistakes allowing providers to benefit from poorer outcomes leading to increased needs of critical care services which lengthen hospital stays dramatically (Committee on Quality of Health Care in America & Institute of Medicine Staff, 2001; Institute of Medicine, Committee on Redesigning Health Insurance Performance Measures, Payments and Performance Improvements Staff, 2007). While considering more effective designs within our health care system, treatment efficacy, reimbursement paradigms, and patient safety could possibly be used as a foundation upon which to rebuild our health care infrastructure. The Committee on Quality of Health Care in American and the Institute of Medicine Staff (2001) offer “six aims [safe, effective, patient-centered, timely, efficient, and equitable] for improvement that can raise the quality of care to unprecedented levels” (p. 5).

Fee-for-service models, the traditional norm in health care reimbursement, seek to itemize care expenditures based on particular procedures or services rendered to the patient. Though fee-for-service models reward providers for timely, and possibly effective and efficient, delivery of care, it does little to address safe, patient-centered, and equitable considerations.

Financial barriers embodied in current payment methods can create significant obstacles to higher-quality health care. Even among health professionals motivated to provide the best care possible, the structure of payment incentives may not facilitate the actions needed to systematically improve the quality of care, and may even prevent such actions.
(Committee on Quality of Health Care in America et al., 2001, p. 181)

As a paramedic, I am bound to a Medicare reimbursement model that focuses solely on the transportation of the patient and not on the care rendered. For a patient experiencing cardiac chest pain, merely placing them on a continuous ECG monitor and providing transportation to the hospital allows my employer to be paid the same as if I initiated an intravenous line, administered oxygen, aspirin, nitroglycerin, and morphine, and performed serial diagnostic 15-lead ECG readings during the transport. In any case, though, payment is withheld if the patient is not transported. I have to assume that this inequitable reimbursement scheme is replicated across the health care spectrum.

Pay-for-performance models, however, seek to reward the provider for improving the quality of care delivered and “represents an attempt to align incentives in the payment system so that rewards are given to providers who foster the six quality aims set forth in the Quality Chasm report” (Institute of Medicine, Committee on Redesigning Health Insurance Performance Measures, Payments and Performance Improvements Staff, 2007, p. 36; Committee on Quality of Health Care in America et al., 2001). Some detractors of pay-for-performance worry that providers serving poor and ethnic communities that have typically poor health and preventative compliance will not benefit from such performance measures. The worry is that the numbers of providers will be lacking in these communities, worsening the communities health outcomes (Nafziger, 2010). Though, “pay for performance is not simply a mechanism to reward those who perform well; rather, its purpose is to encourage redesign and transformation of the health care system to ensure high-quality care for all” (Institute of Medicine, Committee on Redesigning Health Insurance Performance Measures, Payments and Performance Improvements Staff, 2007, p. 44). Pay-for-performance focuses on safety, and a search of the literature does not reveal any complicating risk to patients under a pay-for-performance system so long as the system is patient-centric, taking into account the patient population serviced by each provider.

For instance, regarding a certain type of heart attack called a “STEMI”, or ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction, it is beneficial for the paramedic ambulance to bypass the local community hospital and transport the patient to a primary coronary intervention (PCI) facility for a cardiac catheterization. In this instance, the local community hospital is losing potential revenue. Perhaps if the reimbursement model reflected this evidence-based and patient-centered decision and provided a small monetary reward to the local community hospital for allowing the directed care at the PCI center, then mortality and morbidity from STEMI in the community would be reduced and the local hospital would be rewarded for their involvement in the process even if they did not provide any direct care. This is just one instance in the realm of emergency care where pay-for-performance can help to ensure safe, effective, patient-centered, timely, efficient, and equitable delivery of care to the patient.

As both a health care provider and consumer, I would prefer the pay-for-performance model of reimbursement. As a provider, I am a patient advocate, and as a patient, I will, of course, advocate for myself. Pay-for-performance enables provider growth, evidence-based practice, better patient safety mechanisms, and an overall efficient and a more complete and holistic delivery of care.


Committee on Quality of Health Care in America (Author), & Institute of Medicine Staff (Author). (2001). Crossing the quality chasm: A new health system for the 21st century. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Institute of Medicine, Committee on Redesigning Health Insurance Performance Measures, Payments and Performance Improvements Staff (Author). (2007). Rewarding provider performance: Aligning incentives in Medicare. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Nafziger, B. (2010, May 6). Pay for performance could hurt docs who serve poor, blacks and hispanics. DOTMed News. Retrieved from

Botulism: A Measurement of Occurrence

 Botulism, caused by the Clostridium botulinum bacterium, is typically caused by poorly prepared, home-canned foods and can cause symptoms as simple as blurred or double vision to full body paralysis, sometimes causing death (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 1996). The incidence of botulism is said to be extremely low with only 126 reported cases in the United States in 2003; with only eight attributable to foodborne vectors, the predominant cause is accidental contamination (CDC, 2004).

One of the concerns regarding botulism is its toxicity. Botulinum toxin is the most potent toxin known to man (CDC, 2006). This potency lends to botulinum’s ability to be used as an agent of bioterrorism, though most of the known cases have been shown to be accidental in nature (CDC, 1996; CDC, 2006). Another concern is the accidental or negligent contamination of any food prepared for wide distribution, such as canned vegetables from a large manufacturer.

Surveillance is important to identify each and every case in order to have the most accuracy possible when considering increasing or decreasing trends of incidence and prevalence of the disease. The cause of any increase or decrease in incidence of botulism should always be investigated.

Any increase of incidence could identify a possible problem while a decreased incidence could foretell efficacy in the efforts of mitigation. More appropriately, though, as Friis and Sellers (2009) show, further identification should be made in order to focus on specific descriptive factors, such as affected populations, the geography of these populations, known vectors, and factors of time. This process will ensure that more accurate trends are observed.

For instance, the CDC (2004) has stated that in a typical year, such as 2004, the incidence of botulism is less than 200. With incidence reporting covering the entire United States, increases or decreases in this crude number serve only to identify general changes in frequency; whereas, further identification of certain characteristics of the disease pattern will help to further isolate affected individuals and etiologies (Friis et al., 2009). Within the CDC’s (2004) data, infant occurrence of botulism is identified as the major contributor to incidence, thereby isolating the remaining occurrences to adults. The CDC has gone further to separate the incidences of botulism into three groups, infant occurrence, foodborne infection, and wound infection. A separate group is reserved for other occurrences relating to the use of pharmacological botulin.

Using descriptive factoring of the 2003 CDC data (2004), further geographic isolation of occurrences show that infant occurring botulism is fairly wide-spread with a small number of incidences in each of twenty-two States, though California and Pennsylvania account for about half of the reported infant occurrences. Foodborne and wound occurrences of botulism were isolated to Alaska, California, Colorado, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. Texas had the only two reportable cases classified as “Other”. Theoretical assumptions can now be used to show that the problem in Texas is resolved but should continue to be monitored, and food safety education projects should focus on home-canning in the western regions of the United States.

In conclusion, epidemiology is an important means of understanding and identifying causation and etiology, as well as preparing for mitigation and outbreak response. In this example of botulism, I have identified localization of the disease, common pathways of infection, or vectors, and means of helping to mitigate future occurrences of the disease. Botulism numbers are quite low, but dealing with other diseases of larger scale, grouping the data into useful subsets will assist in following the progression of the disease from outbreak to outbreak and in consideration of mitigation techniques employed.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1996). Botulism (Clostridium botulinum): 1996 case definition [CSTE Position Statement No. 09-ID-29]. Retrieved from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2004). Surveillance for Outbreaks of Botulism [Summary of 2003 Data]. Retrieved from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2006). History of Bioterrorism: Botulism. CDC Emergency Preparedness and You [Podcast]. Washington, DC: CDC Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Program.

Friis, R. H., & Sellers, T. A. (2009). Epidemiology for public health practice (4th ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

Relationships Among Health Services Organizations

 As a critical care paramedic, I am fortunate enough to experience our health care system as an active participant, caring for the sick and injured, and as a passive observer, following the pathways of the patients whom I have treated. The health care system in the United States is, admittedly, fractured (Kovner & Knickman, 2008), but there are components that serve to create harmony and efficiency within this system, and I will describe just a few of them.

The primary care physician is meant to be the coordinator of all care for his or her patients. The importance of this role cannot be overstated, as it is the keystone to “health promotion, disease prevention, health maintenance, counseling, patient education, diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic illnesses” (American Academy of Family Physicians, 2010, para. 7). When appropriately utilized, the primary care physician can coordinate a patient’s care to ensure efficiency and efficacy of treatment while ensuring safe and comprehensive care (Kovner et al., 2008).

There is a growing number of specialties and sub-specialties within the practice of medicine today (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010b). Specialists focus on their chosen area of practice and are an asset to the general practitioner, or primary care physician, who can concentrate on the coordination of the patient’s care. The inclusion of specialists in medicine is an efficient and effective means of offering the patient a level of expertise not otherwise available. One of these specialties is emergency medicine.

Emergency departments are necessary entry points into the health care system for victims of acute trauma and illness, but often times, the emergency department is used as the primary portal for those who lack insurance or other means of accessing health care appropriately (Committee on the Future of Emergency Care, 2006; Kovner et al., 2008). These patients tend to utilize the emergency room for even minor ailments, distressing this important component of the system, causing a “nationwide epidemic of [emergency department] overcrowding, boarding, and ambulance diversion” (Committee on the Future of Emergency Care, 2006, p. 19).

Laboratories and radiology departments are great assets to providers, allowing technicians to perform tests at the behest of the physicians and only requiring the physician to interpret the results of the tests. This seems to be a cost-effective and efficient component of the system, so long as the tests are performed timely and accurately.

Pharmacists have been regarded as patient-focused consultants who can provide both patient-specific and general information regarding over-the-counter medications as well as prescription medications. In our health care system, pharmacists have a valuable role of safeguarding patients from over-medication, as well as under-medication, medication compatibility, and also educating patients to the possible side-effects of their prescribed medicines (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010a).

In conclusion, the safest and most efficient use of our health care system begins at primary care. Though, in emergency situations, there is certainly a need to seek immediate care by other means, patients can suffer financial challenges as well as safety issues by trying to remove the primary care physician from the health care paradigm. Not only is this unsafe for the patient seeking primary care elsewhere, but misuse of emergency departments cause unnecessary delays for truly emergent patients. The health care system in the United States is vast and can be confusing. The primary care physician can provide a safe and efficient pathway of care that will save a patient time, money, and, possibly, his or her life.


American Academy of Family Physicians. (2010). AAFP policy on primary care. Retrieved May 1, 2010, from

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U. S. Department of Labor. (2010a). Pharmacists. Occupational outlook handbook (2010-11 ed.). Retrieved from

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U. S. Department of Labor. (2010b). Physicians and surgeons. Occupational outlook handbook (2010-11 ed.). Retrieved from ocos074.htm

Committee on the Future of Emergency Care in the United States Health System. (2006). Hospital-based emergency care : At the breaking point. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Kovner, A. R., & Knickman, J. R. (Eds.). (2008). Jonas & Kovner’s health care delivery in the United States (9th ed.). New York, NY: Springer.