EMS Revisited: Customer Care Part 2

Have you ever heard the expression "you only get one chance to make a first impression"? How you approach your patient can have a big impact on how they view your care.


EMS Revisited is an exclusive column that offers reprints of various columns and articles from our archives that are not currently available in electronic format. In the January 2003 issue of EMS Magazine (now EMS World Magazine) we began a year-long series on customer care in EMS. Here we will reprint the series in its entirety.

For EMS providers, going on 9-1-1 calls is routine. We sometimes forget that for our customers, a call is a memorable and sometimes intimidating experience. Not everyone realizes when they call 9-1-1 that they might have a fire truck, ambulance and police car parked outside their home. Keep that in mind when you arrive.

Try to park so others can approach, and don't block in neighbors' cars. Just because your job is important doesn't give you the right to make three other people late for work. Doing so will not generate a positive image for your agency, the name of which is prominently displayed on the side of your ambulance. The neighbors will have plenty of time to write it down while they wait.

If this is unavoidable, try to post someone at your rig who can move the vehicle to let people out, or at least explain to them how long they might expect to wait. Ignoring someone and their needs, no matter how trivial, is a sure road to anger and resentment.

Don't forget to knock! Even though invited, you are a stranger entering your patient's castle. You may even be at the wrong address.

As you enter, have an open, calm demeanor. A friendly smile should be the first part of your scene routine. You have a very short time to gain everyone's trust. Make your first impression a good one, and those on scene will feel better about everything else you do.

Don't start barking questions and orders. Be patient with persons not used to thinking and operating in emergency situations. This sounds obvious, but we could all use this reminder when we're tired, late in our shift or past due for a meal.

Introduce yourself to your patient. Applying normal social rules to a call can make your customers much more relaxed. People are comforted by the familiar. If you have been summoned, the situation is neither familiar nor comforting. Try to provide some sense of normality. Using the patient's name is one of the best ways to make them feel cared for as a person, not as a complaint.

You or your partner should approach the patient and introduce yourselves by name and function: "Hi, I'm an EMT, and my name is Tyrell. What's your name?"

Beware of the "birth date syndrome." This is where each responder approaches the patient to get their DOB for the report. It is annoying to the patient and distracting to you. If possible, have someone else get this from friends or family. Then have a short meeting to share all this type of information.

You can also take this opportunity to inform everyone of your management plan. This way, each member of the team will focus on their piece of the puzzle, and everyone will be working together. This will be more efficient, look better and get the patient what they need the fastest.

"Idiot Check"

Once you are ready to leave the scene, it is always a good idea to perform an "idiot check." This means looking around and seeing what you've missed. When I was a paramedic student, I was told "carry something in, carry something out." Good advice. Do other responders a favor and keep track of their equipment like it was your own. It's easy to be so focused on the patient that you leave your jump kit locked up in their home.

Clean up! Have someone pick up all the wrappers, garbage and used gloves. Sharps must be removed in all circumstances. If you've spilled blood, clean it up (hydrogen peroxide works great). If you don't, the family may stare at that stain for years and curse you every time they see it.

Ask if the patient needs anything. Purse, glasses, wallet, cell phone? Make sure they have their keys, and ask how they want their place locked up. Going to the hospital is traumatic enough. Giving someone peace of mind that their house is safe can remove one element of anxiety.

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