Why ems needs its own ethics
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Why EMS Needs Its Own Ethics. The "Code of Ethics". I solemnly pledge myself to the following code of professional ethics:

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Why EMS Needs Its Own Ethics

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Why ems needs its own ethics

Why EMS Needs Its Own Ethics


The code of ethics

The "Code of Ethics"

  • I solemnly pledge myself to the following code of professional ethics:

  • A fundamental responsibility of the Emergency Medical Technician is to conserve life, to alleviate suffering, to promote health, to do no harm, and to encourage the quality and equal availability of emergency medical care.

  • The Emergency Medical Technician provides services based on human need, with respect for human dignity, unrestricted by consideration of nationality, race creed, color, or status.


The code of ethics1

The "Code of Ethics"

  • The Emergency Medical Technician does not use professional knowledge and skills in any enterprise detrimental to the public well being.

  • The Emergency Medical Technician respects and holds in confidence all information of a confidential nature obtained in the course of professional work unless required by law to divulge such information.


The code of ethics2

The "Code of Ethics"

  • The Emergency Medical Technician, as a citizen, understands and upholds the law and performs the duties of citizenship; as a professional, the Emergency Medical Technician has the never-ending responsibility to work with concerned citizens and other health care professionals in promoting a high standard of emergency medical care to all people.

  • The Emergency Medical Technician shall maintain professional competence and demonstrate concern for the competence of other members of the Emergency Medical Services health care team.


The code of ethics3

The "Code of Ethics"

  • An Emergency Medical Technician assumes responsibility in defining and upholding standards of professional practice and education.

  • The Emergency Medical Technician assumes responsibility for individual professional actions and judgment, both in dependent and independent emergency functions, and knows and upholds the laws, which affect the practice of the Emergency Medical Technician


The code of ethics4

The "Code of Ethics"

  • An Emergency Medical Technician has the responsibility to be aware of and participate in matters of legislation affecting the Emergency Medical Service System.

  • The Emergency Medical Technician, or groups of Emergency Medical Technicians, who advertise professional service, do so in conformity with the dignity of the profession.


The code of ethics5

The "Code of Ethics"

  • The Emergency Medical Technician has an obligation to protect the public by not delegating to a person less qualified, any service which requires the professional competence of an Emergency Medical Technician

  • The Emergency Medical Technician will work harmoniously with and sustain confidence in Emergency Medical Technician associates, the nurses, the physicians, and other members of the Emergency Medical Services health care team.


The code of ethics6

The "Code of Ethics"

  • The Emergency Medical Technician refuses to participate in unethical procedures, and assumes the responsibility to expose incompetence or unethical conduct of others to the appropriate authority in a proper and professional manner.


Why ems needs its own ethics1

Why EMS Needs Its Own Ethics

  • You arrive at the site of a single-vehicle MVA. A man in his 80s was driving, his wife in the passenger seat. You assess the man as emergent and requiring transport. The man seems unconcerned about himself but keeps asking about his wife, who is dead. What do you tell him?


Why ems needs its own ethics2

Why EMS Needs Its Own Ethics

  • How you answer this true scenario will depend, to a large extent, on whether you're a physician or an EMT. For a physician in this country, telling the truth is considered a paramount virtue. The American Medical Association says in its Principles of Medical Ethics that "A physician shall...be honest in all professional interactions."1 Thus, a physician would either have to respond honestly or try to dissuade the asking of the question.


Why ems needs its own ethics3

Why EMS Needs Its Own Ethics

  • NAEMT's EMT Code of Ethics has no requirement regarding honesty or truth-telling;2 thus, the EMT following only this code would ethically be free to bend the truth in order to ensure a more compliant patient. In the above case, the EMT told the driver that his wife was receiving the best possible care and that they had to concentrate on taking care of him. Although no outright lie was told, The the truth was avoided.


Why ems needs its own ethics4

Why EMS Needs Its Own Ethics

  • A 1992 study found that ethical conflicts arose in 14.4% of paramedic responses.3 These included issues involving informed consent, treatment of minors, research, resuscitation limits, patient competence, resource allocation, confidentiality, truth-telling and training. The EMT Code of Ethics was published in 1978 and has not been updated since. The medical ethics landscape, however, has changed a great deal, and new challenges have arisen.


Defining ethics

Defining Ethics

  • A physician goes through four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school and at least three years of residency before practicing. He has advanced academic degrees and has passed rigorous written examinations. The role of the physician is to cure, comfort and care. In the healthcare hierarchy, the physician is at the top (superceded only, in the reality of the modern healthcare system, by hospital administrators or health insurance guidelines). Physicians typically have a great deal of leeway for individual decision-making.


Defining ethics1

Defining Ethics

  • EMS providers have much more variable training. They may be prehospital care providers, dispatchers, emergency department staff or support personnel.These practitioners often have small leeway in decision-making, having to follow protocols, scopes of practice and highly structured chains of command. The goal of the EMS system is to assess, stabilize and transport the patient.


Defining ethics2

Defining Ethics

  • As used in medicine, the term ethics has several broad definitions. First, as an area of philosophical scholarship, ethics is about examining how people make decisions regarding what's right and what's wrong.8

  • We use this definition when we speak about studying ethics or performing an ethical analysis. Second, ethics can also be viewed as guidelines for behavior--in our case, for a specific population.8,9 Third, some people use the term broadly when examining controversial subjects such as abortion, cloning and withdrawal of life support.8


Defining ethics3

Defining Ethics

  •   For the EMS provider, ethics are defined by the U.S. Department of Transportation as personal standards governing how one should live. For the U.S. DOT, morality is about social standards, such as a code of conduct for a group. Thus, the DOT actually reverses the meaning of ethics and morality as they are commonly used in bioethics.


Defining ethics4

Defining Ethics

  •   This distinction is important because in communicating between professions, one must understand that the same word may have different meanings. Bioethicists tend to use the medical definitions as outlined above. The EMS provider should be aware that the definitions given by U.S. DOT are not the ones used by most healthcare professions.


Ethical principles

Ethical Principles

  • Some ethical principles seem similar across all health professions. For example, the notion of nonmaleficence, or "do no harm," has been a principle of healthcare extending back to the days of the Hippocratic physicians. Other possibly universal notions include the idea of beneficence (providing helpful care to patients and protecting them from harm), autonomy (a limited patient right to self-governance) and justice (a distribution of scarce resources and treating like cases alike).


Ethical principles1

Ethical Principles

  • Together, these four principles of biomedical ethics are considered to be guidelines for moral deliberation. Yet how these principles are operationalized can differ by setting, situation and professional obligation.


Ethical principles2

Ethical Principles

  •   Among the issues dealt with differently in EMS are informed consent, capacity, privacy/confidentiality and end-of-life decision-making. Although the medical principles to be considered may be similar, how the issues are deliberated and resolved differs greatly. When updating their codes of ethics, EMS providers should consider these differences.


Confidentiality

Confidentiality

  • An elderly man collapses in front of a local coffee house. While he is being assessed for a probable myocardial infarction, a woman runs up and says she's the man's caregiver, though she's not a family member. She has no documentation proving her claim. She demands to know the patient's condition.


Confidentiality1

Confidentiality

  • Both physicians and EMS providers must follow guidelines established by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act for confidentiality of patient medical information. HIPAA requires that stringent measures be taken for preserving patient confidentiality, including limits on who can know the patient's information and have access to their records.13 In a physician's office or hospital, the law requires that patients acknowledge reception, in writing, of written copies of all privacy and confidentiality policies upon their first visit.


Confidentiality2

Confidentiality

  • In the EMS environment, HIPAA still applies, but compliance may be more difficult, especially if the patient is unconscious. In Reno, NV, EMS providers ensure compliance by leaving copies of their confidentiality policies with patients' family members, sitting on a floor or table, or with a police officer on the scene. Other services just mail them. No matter what method is used, the attempt to deliver the notice should be documented.


Confidentiality3

Confidentiality

  •       In addition, the patient's medical information may need to be shared with a wide array of people, including family members at the scene, police and on the radio while in transport. EMS practitioners may need to have certain information reported to or by dispatch, such as a patient's HIV status, in order to protect themselves.

  • Lay people often have scanners that enable them to hear public-safety radio conversations, potentially compromising patient privacy through inadvertent disclosure. Although HIPAA does permit the sharing of healthcare knowledge for purposes of treatment, the reality is that keeping information private is more difficult in the EMS environment.


Confidentiality4

Confidentiality

  • In the above scenario, a physician would be forbidden from giving any medical information to this woman. Medical information can be given only to a legally appointed or recognized decision-maker. A family member calling a hospital to see if a loved one is a patient cannot even be told if that person is in the hospital without that person's prior written permission.


Confidentiality5

Confidentiality

  •   An EMS provider in the above case would be under similar legal restrictions. A copy of the privacy policies could be given to the woman, and you could request contact information for the nearest family member, but no medical information can be shared until the alleged caregiver can prove she's the patient's legal representative.


Consent

Consent

  • A patient with early Alzheimer's has fallen and requires assessment and potential treatment. Sometimes the patient appears lucid, but more often he does not.

  •      When making treatment choices or even ordering tests, physicians must get the permission of a patient or the patient's legal surrogate decision-maker. The standard for permission to treat is called informed consent. Informed consent requires several precepts to be met: within a developing relationship between a patient (or proxy) and a care provider.


Consent1

Consent

  • 1) The patient (or the patient's legal decision-maker) is competent and capacitated to make a choice; 2) The patient is given all necessary information a reasonable person would need to make a decision, including risks, benefits and alternatives; and 3) The patient is capable of deliberating and communicating their choice. Consent is a process that takes place within a developing relationship between a patient (or proxy) and a care provider.


Consent2

Consent

  • For a physician dealing with the above case, unless the situation is emergent, a bioethicist would recommend that the patient be assessed for competency and capacity to make decisions. The physician would be encouraged to speak with the patient during a moment of lucidity to determine what the patient wants to do, gain consent, and learn and chart whom the legal decision-maker should be. Such a process should ideally lead to a written informed consent or chart note signed by all present at the discussion.


Consent3

Consent

  •   Although all attempts to secure written consent should be made, EMS situations do not often allow such a luxury. The patient may not be conscious, a legal decision-maker may not be available, and time may not allow for a proxy to be located. Thus, all the requirements for truly informed consent may not be met.


Consent4

Consent

  • In EMS, permission may fall under presumed consent (sometimes called implied consent). That is, the patient is presumed to consent for treatment because the average person in that situation would do so. There is often no time available for careful deliberation or for forming a trusting patient-provider relationship; thus consent is neither informed nor explicit. The above patient should be assessed, and if the exam reveals a potential injury, the patient should be transported.


Decision making

Decision-making

  • A 58-year-old female is having difficulty breathing. After a lifetime of smoking, she figures her time is up and she probably has lung cancer. She indicates she does not want chemotherapy or other cancer treatments, but instead is ready to die. The immediate problem is difficulty getting a good oxygen sat.


Decision making1

Decision-making

  • In a physician's office or hospital, patient decision-making can take place over a period of time. Patients may be given a diagnosis, a cause and a prognosis. They will be offered treatment options, along with a list of risks and benefits to each. Often, several conversations take place, and the patient will have time for moral deliberation.


Decision making2

Decision-making

  •  For a physician, the first priority would be to stabilize the patient's breathing and then discuss decisions regarding diagnostic tests and potential treatments later. This discussion is likely to take place over several meetings, as more information is acquired. The physician will engage the patient in a conversation about her values, possible courses of treatment and end-of-life care.


Decision making3

Decision-making

  • In the EMS environment, the first priority is also establishing an airway. But often, little to no time exists for detailed deliberative decision-making. Decisions must frequently be made quickly. Because EMS providers often have lower levels of education than physicians, as well as less time for consulting colleagues and the professional literature when providing care, and because legal liability lies with the medical director and the service, EMS decision-making tends to be strongly protocol-driven.


Decision making4

Decision-making

  • While an EMS provider would continue a dialogue with the patient, the big interest would be to assist her breathing and provide transport if necessary. The consent conversation would be short and specific to the immediate problem of shortness of breath.


Disclosure truthfulness

Disclosure (Truthfulness)

  • The opening scenario to this article described a case where the EMS provider bent the truth. In my conversations with EMS providers, many say lying is a useful tool to calm patients, to keep them focused away from bad news or situations, and to permit the EMS provider to offer the best care.


Disclosure truthfulness1

Disclosure (Truthfulness)

  • For example, if a victim of a car wreck or house fire asks about a loved one who died, the EMS provider may bend the truth ("We're doing everything we can for him/her.") or tell a lie of omission ("We need to focus on you right now."). The goal is to stabilize and treat the patient--something a sudden grief reaction or pleas to tend to the other person may inhibit. Ironically, lying enables the EMS provider to form a caring, trusting bond with the patient much faster than if he told the truth.


Limits to treatment

Limits to Treatment

  • A 67-year-old male patient's home healthcare provider calls in alarm because her patient has fallen unconscious. He was just discharged from the hospital last week. The home provider has the patient's advance directive and a copy of a DNR order from his hospitalization. However, there is no prehospital advance directive (out-of-hospital DNR).


Limits to treatment1

Limits to Treatment

  • In an office setting, patients and their providers can discuss and implement orders that limit treatment in the event of a terminal illness. Patients and family members can complete advance directives and appoint healthcare proxies. Physicians can write Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders. Time permits a process of conversing and discussing these issues so that a well-deliberated plan can be made. In the above case, a physician seeing the patient's advance directive would be able to write an immediate DNR order and withhold resuscitation treatment.


Limits to treatment2

Limits to Treatment

  • EMS systems may be bound by law or policy to provide resuscitative care at such scenes unless it is physiologically futile--i.e., the patient displays "rigor mortis, decomposition, [is] burned beyond recognition or [has] other situations incompatible with life." However, 42 states have some form of out-of-hospital DNR order, sometimes called a prehospital advance directive (PHAD).


Limits to treatment3

Limits to Treatment

  • In these circumstances, if a patient presents a PHAD, then EMS resuscitation efforts can be withheld or withdrawn. In many states the PHAD must be the original document and not a copy. Sometimes the EMS provider may be able to radio the medical director for a DNR order to be issued on scene. Although it is beyond the scope of an EMS provider's practice to withhold treatment, in reality, EMS providers sometimes do withhold resuscitation without a PHAD or medical director's order. In the above case, an EMS provider would be required to initiate resuscitation and transport.


Patient population choice

Patient Population/Choice

  • You are off duty, driving home on the freeway when you find traffic completely stopped. You see just ahead of you that an accident has occurred, and at least one person appears to have gone through his windshield. A person is running through the stopped traffic asking if anyone can provide medical care.


Patient population choice1

Patient Population/Choice

  •   Choice is a cornerstone of the physician-patient relationship: Physicians can choose their patients, and vice-versa. The exception is emergency situations. At work or on personal time, a physician must respond to patients in a medical emergency. Thus, a physician would be obligated to assess and treat the victim in the above scenario.


Patient population choice2

Patient Population/Choice

  •   Ethically, choosing whom to treat is important in having control over one's profession and as a consideration in deliberative decision-making. EMS providers have no choice whom to treat;7 likewise, a patient cannot choose a particular EMS provider. While on-duty, the EMS provider must give treatment to anyone who requests it unless doing so would compromise the provider's safety. However, unlike a physician, an off-duty EMS provider is not legally required to provide care except in Vermont and Minnesota. In other states, the EMS provider would have no requirement to help the victim in the above scenario.


Patient population choice3

Patient Population/Choice

  • This issue of professional autonomy to treat becomes important in cases such as when an EMS provider arrives at a scene and no one complains of an injury. Is there technically a patient? Legally the EMS provider should conduct an examination to ensure there is no life-threatening injury. Ethically, the provider has a duty of beneficence, to protect a patient from harm, suggesting that a properly documented assessment would be appropriate.


Research

Research

  • A patient is bleeding out after a motor vehicle accident. Like most ambulances, the responding EMS providers do not stock human blood. The standard protocol is to give patients saline to increase fluid volume and to transport immediately. However, this community is participating in a research trial for a new artificial blood substitute. The patient has lost consciousness, and no one is around who can give consent for his participation.


Research1

Research

  • Consent for research is regulated by what is known as the "Common Rule" in Section 45 of the U.S. Code. The law requires that all competent and capacitated persons ideally give written consent after investigators inform potential subjects about their research, including all risks and benefits.


Research2

Research

  • The problem with emergency research is that time is often of the essence, the potential subject may be unable to give consent, and a legal representative may be unavailable. Thus, the Department of Health and Human Services and Food and Drug Administration wrote 45 CFR Part 46, which permits research in emergency settings when the patient's life is in jeopardy and informed consent cannot be obtained.


Research3

Research

  • Several trials have been performed under this exception. In 1987 in Minnesota, a blood substitute trial was conducted on patients requiring emergency transport. The trial was not a success, as 24 patients died after receiving the substitute, and only nine died after receiving saline.


Research4

Research

  • The exception applies to EMS and emergency departments. Thus, for legal purposes of emergency medical research, there is no difference between physicians and EMS providers. However, most research is not done under an emergency waiver. The AMA Code of Ethics explicitly says that "A physician shall continue to study, apply, and advance scientific knowledge." The EMT Code of Ethics does not offer any statements regarding participating in research or the pursuit of scientific knowledge.


Conclusion

Conclusion

  •   Although the tendency in healthcare ethics has been to adopt the medical ethics model for decision-making, this has often proven to be a poor model. Different focuses and philosophical foundations call for different frameworks for decision-making. In the same way, EMS providers should not be quick to adopt the bedside principles of biomedical ethics, but should recognize their unique role in the healthcare system and develop a tool that acknowledges those differences and provides true assistance in making choices at the gurney-side.


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