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Reducing “Preventable Expenses” in EMS by Improving Safety

Raul Galang | Dec 20, 2013

Recent events this past year, such as the bankruptcies of First Med EMS and Rural/Metro Corporation, highlight the difficulty that those in the emergency medical service industry are facing – providing critical services using a business model that provides little room for error.  EMS providers operate on a fixed revenue stream and have to tightly manage their expenses to ensure reasonable profit margins, which are already razor-thin. Other recent articles which cast a shadow of skepticism on the emergency response industry are regarding failures in outsourcing public services and the rising costs for emergency medical transportation. All of this negative publicity can quickly lead to increased scrutiny and mistrust. 

One key aspect of the EMS operation, which is frequently and inaccurately perceived as a “cost of doing business,” is aggressive driving. Although the culture is slowly shifting, many EMS and fire professionals have viewed the notion of “racing to the scene” (and associated risk of an accident) as the cost of being a first responder. This adrenaline rush introduces unnecessary risk to the patients, EMS/fire crews, and the communities being served.  Several factors contribute to a business going bankrupt, the largest simply being the high cost of running a business. A majority of ambulance crashes are considered “preventable expenses” but, if catastrophic, can lead to bankruptcy.

Driver behavior modification systems are proven to immediately reduce aggressive driving – thus improving safety, enhancing patient care and reducing vehicle maintenance costs. Directly addressing the root problem, aggressive vehicle driving, while providing management oversight are both required to change this risky behavior. Reducing aggressive driving alone can substantially help the emergency response organization to eliminate most preventable expenses – to positively impact their bottom line.


There are many vehicle informatics (or “telematics”) solutions on the market – most being focused on larger fleet applications such as mass transit, fleet rental and commercial vehicles.  When evaluating vehicle safety systems, consider the following factors:

  1. Focus on safety of first responders. An emergency response solution must monitor key safety parameters – including backup spotters, lights and sirens, turn signals and driver identification for accountability – to proactively stop behaviors which lead to unsafe driving.
  2. Proven technology. Many GPS-based technologies claim to improve vehicle safety. How long has the technology been used by EMS and fire agencies?  Is there evidence to support claims of increased safety throughout the organization?
  3. Designed to grow with your organization. The emergency medical services field is constantly changing with trends in healthcare reform, technology advancements, etc. How will the vehicle safety system grow with your organizations’ needs? Will the technology be obsolete in a few years?  Will the technology provider be in business to support its product when technology changes?
  4. Established installation and support organization. Without a seasoned support team, the system implementation will be a significant barrier to success. How experienced is the team that will install, train and support the system? Were past customers satisfied with the system deployment and, as a result, have seen a significant benefit to their agency?
  5. Emphasis on safety training. A committed solutions provider will partner with its customers to ensure that the system is properly implemented and used throughout the organization. What services are offered to make sure the systems is utilized to its full potential? Are best practices emphasized to ensure a culture of safety is instilled in all levels of the organization?

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