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What are Paramedic Protocols?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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Paramedic protocols are guidelines that are followed when paramedics and other first responders assist people having medical emergencies. These protocols are taught in training and they are routinely updated to reflect the latest research, information, and changes to the laws. Many emergency services produce their own protocols and require their members to be familiar with them, and it is also possible to purchase mass-produced guides that go over basic protocols for first responders.

When people respond to medical emergencies, they are immediately faced with a decision tree. They need to evaluate the patient to collect information that will be used to make decisions while also assessing the scene so that they can work safely. Paramedic protocols provide guidance in these situations and they are designed to be so clear and simple that paramedics can remember them even in stressful situations.

Protocol dictates the treatments and interventions provided, how to work with other people on scene, how to handle family members and bystanders, and how to make decisions with other first responders about how to proceed. The primary goal is keeping the patient alive and stabilizing him in order to make a move to a hospital, clinic, or medical center possible. Following protocol, paramedics secure the patient's airway, breathing, and circulatory systems, and package the patient for transport while also providing medical aid to keep the patient stable.

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When paramedics are provided with training in paramedic protocols, the goal is to ensure that they provide care that is timely, appropriate, and consistent. Having clear guidelines also allows first responders to focus and get to work quickly, instead of spending time debating what to do at the scene of an emergency. When faced with a situation that has not been encountered before, a protocol can provide guidance to help first responders overcome initial shock and surprise and provide medical treatment.

Considerations taken into account in paramedic protocols include the condition of the patient and the surroundings. There are paramedic protocols for handling everything from a motorcyclist with a broken leg in the middle of six lanes of traffic to a pregnant woman going into labor on a subway platform. Paramedics can be disciplined for failing to adhere to protocol and they are legally liable for injuries caused by failure to provide necessary care. After a major medical emergency, it is not uncommon for paramedics and other first responders to hold a debriefing situation to talk about what happened, how they responded, and any lessons learned during the response that can be applied to future situations.

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