Role of the physician in prehospital management of trauma: North American perspective

Fernando L. Benitez, Paul E. Pepe

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


To some extent or another, physicians have been involved in emergency medical services (EMS) systems in North America for decades. Over the years, physicians from different specialties have been involved with EMS, occasionally as full-time or part-time employees of the EMS system but more often on a voluntary or small contractual basis. Regardless of the employment relationship, most states and provinces now require by statute that each EMS system, particularly those providing advanced life support (ALS) services, have a designated EMS medical director. However, in the United States and most of Canada, such physicians typically oversee EMS systems by acting as administrative medical supervisors, educators, mentors, and, in some cases, even as system managers. Throughout many European countries, the physician is the primary care provider for a large percentage of the serious prehospital medical emergencies. In contrast, throughout North America, basic emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics (specially trained ALS providers) serve as the EMS system medical director's surrogates. In this system of care, such physician surrogates provide almost all of the prehospital medical care interventions without any on-scene physician presence. Nevertheless, because of their medical supervisory requirements, by statute, North American medical directors generally are still accountable for patient care. Therefore, in many areas of the United States and Canada, the responsible physicians also respond to EMS scenes on a routine basis. They do so, both announced and unannounced, independently or with EMS personnel. In this capacity, they can serve as a direct patient care resource for the EMTs, paramedics, and the patients themselves. However, by becoming an intermittent participating member of the EMS team in the unique out-of-hospital setting, these on-scene physicians can help to better scrutinize the care rendered and thus more effectively modify applicable protocols and training as needed. Historically, such practices have helped many EMS systems - not only in terms of reforming traditional protocols but also by helping to establish improved medical care priorities and even system management changes that affect patient care. In addition, active participation helps the accountable EMS physician not only to identify weaknesses in personnel skills and system approaches, but it also provides an opportunity for role modeling, both medically and managerially.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)551-558
Number of pages8
JournalCurrent opinion in critical care
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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