Legal Refresher for EMS
EMS personnel have legal duties while on the job and it is never too soon to brush up on those responsibilities.
A man named David Givot wrote an EMS article that breaks down the legalities which he called “Duty to Act, Assess, Treat and Transport: A Legal Refresher for EMS Providers.” In this article, Givot talks about duty – the duty that we as everyday citizens have (not placing other people in harm’s way) and the duty that EMS and healthcare professionals have to the world.
Primum Non Nocere (First do no harm)
Givot talks about this phrase Primum Non Nocere to be a guide for EMS professionals. He writes, “Many will argue that this essential tenet of EMS – to do no harm – is the number one duty owed by any provider and, theoretically, I would agree. However, the issue of ’duty’ does not tend to come up unless some harm has already been done, which, from a legal perspective, makes it moot. In reality, primum non nocere is more of a guiding principle than a duty.”
Duty to Act
As a healthcare provider, the duty to act is the legal duty that you have to respond appropriately and take action to prevent harm from another person or the public. The courts have interpreted this duty to mean that “duty” for EMS providers means responding in a safe and efficient manner, assessing the patient and the situation thoroughly, treating the patient, and prepare transportation for that patient if needed.
In every state, law requires that emergency vehicles respond to calls in a professional, safe and timely manner and follow local vehicle code rules. It’s important to know that responding doesn’t just mean how the EMS professional gets to a call, it also encompasses how one responds when on the scene. It is the duty of EMS providers to respond to the needs of everyone who calls, even in non-medical emergencies.
Duty to Perform a Thorough Assessment
“Make no mistake; the law is crystal clear on duty when it comes to assessments. As illustrated byand , a provider, once patient contact is made, has an absolute duty to perform a thorough assessment and to act on the findings thereof. The law does not recognize the existence of a partial or truncated assessment.”
Treating the Patient
The law is explicit about a provider’s duty to treat: after a thorough assessment and examination, the provider has a duty to provide the necessary treatment. Givot uses an example of failing to treat: “The most common example of failing to treat is not establishing an IV because the ambulance is right around the corner from the hospital. It seems so simple and innocuous, but it is a symptom of a much larger problem – complacency.”
Transporting the Patient
After assessment and treatment, the next part of the sequence would be to transport. However, not all patients who are assessed and treated on scene will require transportation to a medical facility – sometimes it’s not needed, other times patients may refuse transportation, regardless of how much medical professionals want them to go. Otherwise, EMS providers have an absolute duty to transport patients who require transportation.