AMU Emergency Management Original Public Safety

The Need for Policy Rephrasing in Emergency Medical Services

By Allison G. S. Knox
Edge Contributor

British comedian and HBO host John Oliver recently posted a YouTube video discussing the complex problem of emergency medical services (EMS) in the United States. The informative 20-minute video highlights the numerous problems with the U.S. emergency medical services system, covering topics such as billing, rural EMS agencies, budgets and employee benefits.

One important point that John Oliver makes in the video is that despite emergency medical services being critical to the survival of individuals who need life-saving care, they are not considered an essential service in many states. His argument has been on the national political agenda for a couple of years now. Oliver also hints at the real issue at hand: policy rephrasing is critical to the survival of EMS services.

What Is Policy Rephrasing?

Policy rephrasing essentially means that the urgent need to fix problems with U.S. emergency medical services needs to be retold as a story that makes sense to decision makers and the public. Sometimes, this story can be impacted by special interest groups who have their own interests and policy agendas. By rephrasing the story of why EMS policies need changing, that will allow other people to better understand EMS issues and create support in the community for new policies.

EMS Must Be Viewed as an Essential Service to Community Survival

EMS needs to be seen as an essential service nationwide, not just an afterthought. Having EMS considered as an essential service would allow better policies and more funding to be created. 

EMS policy rephrasing would also have a major impact on other areas of society, as wicked problems often do. Because wicked problems are particularly complicated and involve numerous policy areas, policy rephrasing will create issues where it may not have been obvious. For instance, billing, staffing and budgeting for emergency medical services across the country would be impacted, and property taxes may increase for homeowners.

The Need for Policy Changes

Many sociologists explain that as our environment continues to change, so will the policies that govern our society. Philip Selznick famously explained this concept in his book, “The TVA and the Grass Roots: A Study of Politics and Organization,” as he described how an organization was impacted by its environment. It is clear that the current EMS system needs improvement, but if emergency medical services are considered essential, it is likely that many problems within EMS may dissipate.

Policy rephrasing will be key points to changing EMS for the better. However, like many other complex problems, it will take much more than policy rephrasing to reshape and improve emergency medical services. 

In our online bachelor of science in fire management program, I teach a course on fire regulation, policy and law (FSMT 410). Public policies and other related topics are discussed in this type of class.

Allison G. S. Knox teaches in the fire science and emergency management departments at American Military University and American Public University. Focusing on emergency management, homeland security and emergency medical services policy, she often writes and advocates about these issues. Allison serves as the At-Large Director of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, and as the Chancellor of the Southeast Region on the Board of Trustees with Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in Social Sciences. Prior to teaching, she worked for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. and in a Level One trauma center emergency department. Allison is an emergency medical technician and holds four master’s degrees.

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