Body-worn cameras for EMS responders can help with training, documentation, and safety
According to the National Association of State Emergency Medical Services Officials (NASEMSO), EMS agencies respond to over 28.5 million calls per year. With those calls comes a dizzying array of situations that EMTs must adapt to and address.
Among the challenges that come with being an EMT are the stress of making life-or-death decisions quickly, mountains of paperwork and all-too-frequent occurrences of workplace violence. A body-worn camera for EMS responders can help address these challenges by aiding in training, documentation and de-escalating violent situations while also providing additional benefits.
Benefits of body-worn cameras for EMS
Body-worn cameras for EMS responders provide numerous benefits, which is why EMS agencies from the UK to Texas have been adopting them in recent years. If you’re considering adding body-worn cameras to your EMS toolkit, here are the benefits worth considering.
Saving lives can be a dangerous job. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, 2,000 EMS technicians are injured in workplace violence-related incidents each year. In 2020, the CDC and the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) reported 16,900 injuries occurring during the performance of EMS duties among both EMS technicians and firefighters.
Violence is the second most frequent cause of injuries to EMS responders, and most of those injuries are caused by the patients being treated. This makes ensuring the safety of EMS responders of paramount importance.
Body-worn cameras for EMS responders can act both as a deterrent to potentially violent situations and as documentation of an incident. According to the British Safety Council, people tend to be less aggressive if they know they are being recorded. This deterrent effect can protect EMS responders in incidents with people who might otherwise be inclined to commit violent acts.
"We need these cameras. We get up every day to help people, not to be severely beaten," said British EMT Gary Watson, who was assaulted by an intoxicated patient in 2018. "Wearing these cameras should act as a deterrent and if it doesn't, then at least there will be evidence which will hopefully mean tougher sentences for criminals."
In the event a violent incident does occur, evidence captured by a BWC can be used at trial, making it possible to prosecute offenders who might otherwise have gone unpunished.
Quality Assurance (QA)
BWCs can also provide valuable insight into how EMTs are performing during the rigors of their day-to-day. This can have a direct impact on both quality assurance (QA) and quality improvement (QI).
Parker County Hospital District EMS agency said in their announcement from March 2023 that supervisors and field training officers would begin wearing BWCs, explaining, "We are committed to providing the highest quality emergency medical care to our community and we believe that transparency in our actions is the way to achieve that goal.”
Supervisors can use BWC footage to ensure policies are being upheld and proper techniques are being applied. Agencies can use those reviews to recommend improvements that would directly impact the quality of care.
Prior to using BWCs, most agencies documented incidents on paper, leaving it to the EMT to ensure proper documentation. BWCs allow EMTs to focus more on providing care than doing paperwork. Rather than having to try to remember minute details and decisions made during a shift, EMTs can lean on their BWCs for reference as they file the necessary forms.
BWC footage can be extraordinarily useful in training. Showing EMTs what an incident looks like from their perspective can help demonstrate proper techniques far more effectively than a textbook or lecture and third-person videos.
Aside from demonstrating medical techniques, body-worn cameras can highlight some of the less-expected aspects of treating patients, like dealing with bystanders or belligerent patients. Using BWC footage to demonstrate an effective method of de-escalating a tense situation, for example, can help prepare EMTs for the job much better than a lecture on the same subject.
Unfortunately, civilian complaints are part of the job. Sometimes they’re warranted. Most of the time, they’re not.
A 2019 article in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS) reporting on the adoption of BWCs by the EMS agency in East Harris County, Texas in 2016 suggests that the adoption of BWCs has led to better dispute resolution, with BWC footage being used to actively disprove civilian complaints against EMTs.
Body-worn cameras can also provide an effective shield against negligence or malpractice suits. EMS agencies are sued hundreds of times per year. A successful lawsuit can potentially bankrupt an agency and permanently harm a responder’s career, but even an unsuccessful suit can cost thousands of dollars.
As with complaints, BWC footage can provide critical documentation of what happened and when, allowing EMTs to back up their side of events with evidence. This can make the difference between going to court and having a suit dismissed.
Body-worn cameras for EMS capable of live streaming and bi-directional communications, like the Axon Body 4, provide another benefit: telemedical help in transport. EMTs can transmit their view of an incident to a medical director, who can provide assistance and advice on complicated cases while seeing exactly what the EMT is seeing.
A 2021 article in JEMS documents a case in which a 70-year-old woman was being treated for unresponsiveness. After the responding paramedic tried several times and failed to get an IV, the EMS fellow, watching on livestream, instructed the paramedic to place an IO cannula, potentially saving the patient’s life.
EMTs can also stream their BWC view to a hospital emergency room to prepare them for incoming patients and give them an idea of what to expect. This can allow for more effective treatments and better patient outcomes.
Patient care reports
Proper reporting is critical for patient care but also for accounting. A patient care report (PCR) provides the hospital with the information they need in order to receive the arriving patient and quickly and accurately treat their condition. PCRs also allow the EMS agency to be reimbursed for their services, which in turn helps keep the EMT employed.
BWC footage can be used to augment a PCR, providing undeniable evidence from the EMT's point of view of what procedures were followed and which medications were administered. This provides an unmistakable record of an incident that can be used both to improve the patient’s care and the agency’s accounting.
HIPAA compliance must be a consideration in any discussion of body-worn cameras for EMS. While it’s important to note that HIPAA does not require patient consent to record incidents with BWCs, proper procedures must be followed in regard to the management and storage of the resulting video footage.
As with any patient health information (PHI), including PCRs and other documentation, HIPAA guidelines must be followed for the storage and handling of BWC footage. Many agencies store BWC footage for only a short amount of time, then delete it. Others trust a robust software solution for encryption and secure storage of BWC footage.
BWCs from Axon, like the Axon Body 4, provide HIPAA compliance through storage in the Axon Evidence software platform with encryption, security and the ability for agencies to configure their platform instance to protect PHI. The agency can then enact its own internal policies regarding HIPAA compliance and configure Axon Evidence to align with those policies.
Axon can help
As one of the leaders in first responder camera technology, Axon knows what it takes to get the job done. Our mission is to protect first responders, and body-worn cameras like the Axon Body 4 provide layers of protection while aiding in training, documentation and other aspects of the job so that paramedics can focus on saving lives. To learn more about the Axon Body 4, reach out to us today.