Those working in emergency medical services (EMS) are regularly called upon to respond to a wide range of injuries and illnesses. They’re also expected to keep detailed patient records and documentation on all emergency calls, often with the help of advanced EMS ePCR software, like the one developed by Michigan-based software developer Traumasoft. Even with the most sophisticated tools and technology at their disposal, however, navigating the chaos of medical emergencies can still be challenging for EMS providers.
A caller may not always be able to provide a clear or accurate description of the emergency, especially if they are under stress. Sometimes EMS organizations may receive a report on a general situation, such as a traffic accident, a violent crime, or a natural disaster. EMTs and paramedics might then have to treat multiple victims for a number of different medical problems, such as wounds, broken bones, burns, cardiac arrest, and brain damage, among others.
In high-stakes situations, having comprehensive knowledge of common medical emergencies helps EMS providers respond swiftly and appropriately upon dispatch. Below are just a few of the most frequent and most urgent medical emergencies first responders may need to brace for on a regular basis.
Traumatic injuries are among the most commonly reported medical emergencies, and these incidents are often accompanied by severe bleeding. Very deep wounds can bleed uncontrollably, which can lead to dizziness, nausea, loss of consciousness, and even death. Some traumatic injuries cause internal bleeding, a symptom that is dangerously easy to overlook because it can’t be seen by the naked eye. In these especially severe injuries, emergency medical attention will definitely be required to bring the bleeding under control before conveying the patient to a hospital for further treatment.
If an emergency patient has difficulty breathing, this may be caused by an underlying, potentially serious medical condition like pneumonia or anaphylaxis (a potentially fatal allergic reaction). Some common breathing problems that may necessitate emergency medical attention include the following:
- Sustained breathlessness or shortness of breath
- Sensations of tightening or pain in the chest area
- Noisy breathing (e.g. wheezing, whistling, or gasping)
- Shallow, fast breathing
Because there are so many potential causes of respiratory distress, identifying the patient’s particular condition can be challenging even for experienced EMS providers. Doing so accurately requires high levels of clinical knowledge and attention to detail from attending EMTs and paramedics.
Loss of Consciousness
Loss of consciousness or fainting is most often caused by a momentary decrease in blood flow to the brain, such as from dehydration, sudden drops in blood pressure, or other causes. Though fainting is common and often benign, it can likewise point to more severe and potentially life-threatening underlying conditions, particularly in older people. Thus, EMS providers are frequently called upon to assess unconscious patients’ condition by monitoring their breathing, pulse, circulation, and other factors. They may also have to administer acute treatments like oxygen or glucose IV drips when they’re en route to the hospital.
Though generalized body convulsions are the most immediately recognizable type of seizure, especially to laypeople, seizures may actually present several different kinds of symptoms. An episode of severe full-body shaking may be followed by a loss of consciousness or an altered, disoriented state of awareness. Shaking may also be concentrated in specific parts of the body.
EMS providers can help a seizure patient by clearing the area of potentially harmful objects and stabilizing the patient in a safe and comfortable position. They may also check the area for clear seizure triggers and question witnesses on their observations to determine the probable cause.
Sustaining injuries from high-intensity electric shocks is surprisingly common in homes and workplaces. Affected individuals can experience severe burns as well as internal injuries to their muscles, nerves, and blood vessels in some cases.
Electrical injury patients must be checked by EMS providers for irregularities in their breathing, airways, heartbeat, and spinal alignment in the immediate aftermath of an electric shock. Continuous cardiac monitoring, respiratory support, and assessment of the patient’s mental condition are also advisable during care and transport.
Poisoning generally refers to when a toxic substance is knowingly or unknowingly ingested, inhaled, injected, or absorbed through the skin. Poisoning can also occur through overdosing on substances such as alcohol, medication, or illegal drugs.
Poisoned victims will require immediate medical attention to stop the spread of the toxin throughout the body. EMS providers may also attempt to decontaminate the patient’s gastrointestinal system through the use of antidotes or gastric lavage (stomach pumping).
Cardiovascular disease is, to date, one of the most prevalent diseases and causes of death worldwide. Cardiovascular emergencies like heart attacks and episodes of cardiogenic shock thus number among the most severe and also the most urgent kind of medical emergency EMS providers are required to attend to. Signs and symptoms of cardiac emergencies include loss of consciousness, chest pain, nausea, and/or shortness of breath.
Timely intervention is especially crucial when it comes to dealing with cardiovascular emergencies and can often make all the difference when it comes to the patient’s odds for survival. Thus, pre-hospital care in these situations necessitates immediate patient assessment, rapid ambulance transfers, and the efficient teamwork, particularly during resuscitation.
Medical emergencies are often dynamic and highly volatile situations. EMS providers thus need to be ready to improvise and adapt in real-time to conditions on the ground once they are dispatched. Above all, the single skill that is guaranteed to serve an EMT or paramedic well in any situation is competent patient assessment. Asking the right questions and making sound judgment calls based on existing clinical knowledge is often the key to emerging safely from any medical emergency.