Kansas And Missouri Professional Licensing Attorney Discusses The Complications Surrounding Emergency Medical Responder Ethics

EMTs, paramedics, and other medical first responders have a high-stress job. EMTs and other “pre-hospital” personnel (collectively EMTs) are highly trained, highly skilled professionals upon whom we relied as a society to treat our sick and injured without regard to race, color, creed, or nationality. They are essentially doctors in the field. We rely upon them to properly and expeditiously treat us when we call them. We expected EMTs to provide accurate medical advice and counseling while maintaining our privacy and protecting our dignity. The responsibility they take upon themselves in choosing the profession is enormous. Treating numerous people in various scenarios creates potential ethical problems for EMTs on a daily basis. Kansas and Missouri professional licensing attorney Danielle Sanger respects their profession and stands ready, willing, and able to defend their licenses should their ethical judgment be challenged.

EMTs respond to thousands upon thousands of calls per year for service across our nation. In 2012, Kansas City, MO fire departments received 58,610 calls for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) alone. Kansas City ranked 21st out of the top 100 cities in the United States for the total number of calls. Given the sheer extraordinary number of patient contacts per year, EMTs must make voluminous, rapid, and correct treatment decisions. Each patient contact is another opportunity to make a mistake, through intentional or unintentional conduct.

EMTs must learn the ethical canons that guide their professional decision making. The ethical canons for EMTs are the same as those medical doctors and nurses must follow. The notion of justice, meaning the medical system must be “fair and reasonable,” guides EMT decision making.  EMTs must follow the idea of beneficence, which is acting in the “best interest of the patient.” Lastly, EMTs must adhere to the philosophy of autonomy, or complying with the patient’s wishes.

Learning and following the EMTs’ ethical mandates appear to be easy to do at first blush, however, successfully implementing the rules in practice is challenging. For instance, the issue of the advanced directive is particularly vexing. A patient’s family member may present the EMT with a “Do Not Resuscitate (DNR)” order, or a living will, or some other document purporting to be the wishes of the patient. EMTs may need to question the authenticity of the document because, absent a clear and unambiguous order, the EMT must perform lifesaving measures. Conversely, if the EMT knows about a valid advanced directive and wishes to honor it, the EMT can become conflicted when a family member begins to question the validity of the document or the true intentions of the stricken.  The scenarios are difficult. The EMT is well advised to perform lifesaving measures in the field and transport the patient to a medical facility for further evaluation and treatment.

An EMT may only treat a patient with their consent. An ethical conundrum occurs when bystander calls for EMS, yet the potential patient has withheld consent to treatment. The EMT must treat the patient if the patient is unable to speak for themselves. However, the EMT must respect the wishes of the patient if the patient understands the situation and the ramifications for refusing, or accepting medical care. Problems occur when the patient has consumed alcohol or has a head injury, which causes cloudy judgment. The EMT is must decide whether providing care is appropriate.

EMTs must also bear in mind that patient confidentiality is paramount. EMTs must take every precaution to avoid disclosing confidential information about a patient. Disclosing patient information can lead to serious ethical problems.

Where To Turn For Help

Kansas and Missouri professional licensing attorney Danielle Sanger dedicates herself to providing professional licensees, like EMTs and other medical professionals, with exemplary and expert legal service. Attorney Sanger understands the commitment licensed professionals make to their callings and uses her skill and ability to protect their livelihood. Call Kansas and Missouri Professional Licensing Attorney Danielle Sanger at 785-979-4353 today to schedule your free consultation.