Measuring EMS: Patient Satisfaction

As a paramedic, I become discouraged when so-called academic literature, like that of McLean, Maio, Spaite, and Garrison (2002), Spaite (1993), and Stiell et al. (2008), turns up describing what little impact the emergency medical services, especially advanced life support procedures, have on patients. Instead of dismissing these writings, I tend to focus within the view of my own practice and experience on how I feel that I impact the patients that I see. This exercise allows me to confront the literature in a specific and meaningful manner that might be used in the future to publish a dissenting view. This discussion gives me a lens through which to dissect the import I feel that the emergency medical services has as a public safety entity.

Public safety is typically viewed as the amalgamation of police, fire, and emergency medical services. In all three, the public seems to have the idea that we stop threats before they take hold; however, we typically respond to the aftermath, the police to investigate crimes that have already occurred, the fire department to conflagrations that have already caused damage, and emergency medical services to traumatic incidents or medical conditions that have already caused distress. There are exceptions. The police have learned to integrate crime prevention techniques, the fire department has learned to adopt a fire prevention model of service, and the emergency medical services in many areas support preventative health clinics, such as community immunization, blood pressure checks, and CPR and first aid classes. The public, I feel, has a skewed perception of each one of these departments (e.g. the police should stop crime in progress, the fire department should save their house, and emergency medical systems should save their loved one whenever called upon to do so). Any deviation from the public perception is, in their minds, a failure of the system.

I ask myself, “What is that we, as the emergency medical services, do that really matters?” For the public, it seems that the answer can be given two-fold: “save me” and “make me feel better.” El Sayed (2012) describes the manner in which both aspects, outcomes and patient satisfaction, can be measured, as both are essential. Unfortunately, El Sayed does not go into much detail regarding patient satisfaction scores, except as a means of measure. In contrast, I feel that the most benefit that we offer patients is that we alleviate suffering. From a confident, yet compassionate, bed-side manner to effective and efficient treatment modalities, emergency medical personnel can prove to be the mediator between illness or injury and definitive hospital-based care. Emergency medical providers should be knowledgeable enough about the hospital to calm and educate patients as to what to expect. Further, medical knowledge allows the provider to restore a choking person’s breathing, to stop an epileptic seizure, and to minimize a crash victim’s pain. In my opinion, these measures are just as important, if not more, to quality management as mortality and morbidity. Again, El Sayed mentions the generality of patient satisfaction; however, with the abundance of competing literature questioning the effectiveness of the emergency medical services, patient satisfaction should be expounded upon as a legitimate and important aspect of quality patient care.


El Sayed, M. J. (2012). Measuring quality in emergency medical services: a review of clinical performance indicators. Emergency Medicine International, 2012, 1-7, doi:10.1155/2012/161630

McLean, S. A., Maio, R. F., Spaite, D. W., & Garrison, H. G. (2002). Emergency medical services outcomes research: evaluating the effectiveness of prehospital care. Prehospital Emergency Care, 6(2), S52–S56. doi:10.3109/10903120209102683

Spaite, D. W. (1993). Outcome analysis in EMS systems. Annals of Emergency Medicine, 22(8), 1310–1311. doi:10.1016/S0196-0644(05)80113-1

Stiell, I. G., Nesbitt, L. P., Pickett, W., Munkley, D., Spaite, D. W., Banek, J., Field, B., … Wells, G. A., for the OPALS Study Group. (2008). The OPALS Major Trauma Study: impact of advanced life-support on survival and morbidity. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 178(9), 1141-1152. doi:10.1503/cmaj.071154