National Highway Traffic Safety Agency EMS and Public Health Bulletin
EMS and Public Health Bulletin
EMS and Public Health Traditions: Complementary Approaches to the Same Goal
Discussions between the EMS and public health professionals began with a comparison of the basic mission and function of two disciplines. This exchange confirmed their mutual commitment to protecting community health, and pointed out several fundamental differences in their approaches. .
Perhaps the key difference between the methods of EMS and public health is the basic approach to health care taken by the two disciplines. EMS is traditionally a reactionary service, optimized to respond quickly and effectively to acute episodes of illness or injury, and relying on a sophisticated public access communication system to detect incidents and target the response. In contrast, public health is primarily proactive, utilizing the epidemiologic method to systematically identify threats to community health, and intervening mainly through manipulation of environmental factors, such as air and water quality, or through strengthening the community immunity to disease.
EMS and public health also differ with respect to the direction of intervention. EMS provides individual patient-based, while public health is a community or population-based service. This difference is evident in the tools used by either group, public health utilizing policy and regulation to guard the community well-being and EMS using a fleet of mobile emergency care providers to deliver a focused response, render quick on-scene care, and transport patients to definitive care facilities.
As the EMS and public health representatives described their missions, it became clear to both groups that the two disciplines are complementary, and not mutually exclusive. For example, EMS professionals could see obvious benefit in adopting some public health conventions, such as the use of population-based data to identify problems and allocate resources. The public health representatives realized that the traditional EMS assets of mobility and outreach could greatly facilitate the delivery of public health services.