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Since when do doctors ride on ambulances?

submitted by Ken Lavelle, MD, FACEP, Central Bucks EMS Medical Director

Every Pennsylvania ambulance service and fire department that provides medical first response (QRS – Quick Response Service) must have an EMS Physician – a medical director – to oversee the patient care that is provided.

In our county, there are several doctors that not only provide this service, but also respond to scenes and provide assistance and patient care along side of our EMTs and paramedics.

There are many reasons this is beneficial to both the community and the agency:

  • Provider Education – One of the foundations of medical education is bedside teaching, where experienced doctors teach new doctors and students about certain medical conditions. Doctors can point out certain physical findings and continue to challenge the paramedics to become experienced. This is also a form of continuous quality improvement as every agency looks for ways to do their job better.
  • Patient/Family Education – Often when a patient or their family has to call an ambulance, it is one of the worst days of their life. An on-scene physician can explain to the family what is happening and why, and help them anticipate the next steps. It is not uncommon for the medical director to watch their crews do their job from afar, allowing them to do their job, while advising the family what is going on.
  • Advanced Care – Rarely, a patient may need a procedure or medication that the paramedic is not able to do according to regulations and scope of practice standards. When this is the case it is helpful for an on-scene physician to be available. Bucks County has a regionalized Physician Response Team that is available throughout the county.
  • Extra Pair of Hands – More often, EMS Physicians are simply and extra pair of hands to help carry the patient or the EMS equipment. Many are former EMTs and paramedics that continued their education, so they don’t forget their roots. They are only one part of the team, not more or less important than any other part.

So don’t be surprised if you have the misfortune of needing an ambulance, a doctor also responds or is part of the crew. Sometimes, doctors DO still make house calls.