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 reprint the series in its entirety.
What do people expect when they call 9-1-1? ER and Third Watch provide the public with a Hollywood view of EMS. Even reality shows like Paramedics are prettied up for TV. Real life can be mundane, graphic, gross or have an unhappy ending. It’s a given that the public has unrealistic expectations. We need to help people understand what we do.
Most of the time we address the following on scene: “What took you so long? Why aren’t you transporting now? What are you doing? Why are you asking me all these questions?” When people ask such questions, it means they have certain expectations that are not being met. They have no clue about all the issues we have in mind. Do your best to explain what you are doing and why. Put yourself in an anxious situation and your expectations could get quite high. I’m not suggesting we lower public expectations, but that we educate our customers in a respectful way using terms they can understand.
Looking and acting professional is a vital element to creating a positive impression of you and your agency. This is important for making your patients feel comfortable about your ability to care for them.
Since you deal with virtually every level of society, your personal grooming and appearance should be what is normally accepted as average.
Always be neat, clean and freshly shaved, and avoid strong perfumes or colognes. Some people could be allergic or uncomfortable trapped with you in the back of your ambulance.
If it’s OK for male bank tellers and lawyers to wear earrings, it’s probably OK for anyone. However, keep in mind that your patients may judge you on your personal choices. Many older patients came of age in a time when these things were “strange” or “weird.” I’m not saying you should avoid any expressions of individuality, but be aware that it could affect a patient’s acceptance of you. When treating a patient who you feel might be judging you, go out of your way to show them that you are a thoughtful, competent professional. Instead of getting your back up if a patient doesn’t like your pierced tongue, take the opportunity to show them that people with pierced tongues are friendly and nice. Smile and be proud of who you are.
The condition of your ambulance is what everyone in your coverage area sees the most. People respect neatness and cleanliness and look down on what is shabby and unkempt.
Dents or damage to your ambulance should be fixed in a timely manner. The repair process begins with telling someone that there is a dent. Nothing frustrates supervisors more than realizing a problem has existed for weeks and no one told them.
The same applies to the inside. Sit on your cot and look around. What do you see? It goes without saying that dirt and patient DNA left on the inside of the rig creates a bad impression and is a health hazard to you and your patients.
Always wear a clean, crisp uniform. Your desire for individual expression in clothing should be limited to your underwear. If everyone in your agency always looks the same, it will impart a “brand-name,” professional image. Leave shirts or hats with non-agency logos at home.