Prehospital advanced life support (ALS) is provided by non-physicians under the supervision and the responsibility of a physician—the Emergency Medical Service Medical Director (EMSMD). In order to assess the time required of the EMSMD as well as the technical support provided and the medico-legal risks involved, a survey was distributed to physicians in attendance at the Annual Scientific Assemblies of the National Association of EMS Physicians in August 1986 and June 1987. The survey also was mailed to all EMSMDs in Michigan.
Of the 66 EMS medical director respondents, 69% were compensated, 62% were provided with malpractice coverage, and 22% had been involved in legal actions. Clerical support was provided for 89%, office space for 58%, and 60% had access to a computerized record database system. The average time consumed per week was 17±13 hours.
Differences were detected in the amount of support provided between services with an excess of 10,000 ALS responses per year and those with less than 10,000. The larger services more frequently provided office space and equipment (p<.02), malpractice coverage (p<.01), and access to a records database (p<.03) than did the smaller services. The EMSMDs for the larger services also were involved more frequently in legal actions (p<.03).
Legal actions involved 14 of the EMSMDs: paramedic malpractice (6); system failures (3); dispatch errors (2); inappropriate receiving facility (2); and paramedic licensure, equipment failure, union grievance, withdrawal of medical control, and trauma center designation (1 each). Four of the 14 involved had not been provided with malpractice coverage.
Medical direction of a prehospital EMS system requires a significant time commitment, incurs medico-legal risks, and in most communities receives clerical and data retrieval support, and the EMSMDs are compensated.