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The Australian prehospital profession has not yet facilitated a comprehensive discussion regarding paramedic role and responsibility during disasters. Whether paramedics have a duty to treat under extreme conditions and what acceptable limitations may be placed on such a duty require urgent consideration. The purpose of this research is to encourage discussion within the paramedic profession and broader community on this important ethical and legal issue.
The authors employed qualitative methods to gather paramedic and community member perspectives in Victoria, Australia.
These findings suggested that both paramedic and community member participants agree that acceptable limitations on paramedic duty to treat during disaster are required. These limitations should be based on consideration of the following factors: personal health circumstances (eg, pregnancy for female paramedics); pre-existing mental health conditions (eg, posttraumatic stress disorder/PTSD); competing personal obligations (eg, paramedics who are single parents); and unacceptable levels of personal risk (eg, risk of exposure and infection during a pandemic).
It is only with the engagement of a more broadly representative segment of the prehospital profession and greater Australian community that appropriate guidance on limiting standards of care under extreme conditions can be developed and integrated within prehospital care in Australia.
SmithE, BurkleFM Jr., GebbieK, FordD, BensimonC. Acceptable Limitations on Paramedic Duty to Treat During Disaster: A Qualitative Exploration. Prehosp Disaster Med. 2018;33(5):466–470.
Disasters place unprecedented demands on emergency medical services and can test paramedics personal commitment as health care professionals. Despite this challenge, guidelines and codes of ethics are largely silent on the issue, providing little to no guidance on what is expected of paramedics or how they ought to approach their duty to treat in the face of risk. The objective of this research is to explore how paramedics view their duty to treat during disasters.
The authors employed qualitative methods to gather Australian paramedic perspectives.
Our findings suggest that paramedic decisions around duty to treat will largely depend on individual perception of risk and competing obligations. A code of ethics for paramedics would be useful, but ultimately each paramedic will interpret these suggested guidelines based on individual values and the situational context.
Coming to an understanding of the legal issues involved and the ethical-social expectations in advance of a disaster may assist paramedics to respond willingly and appropriately. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2019;13:191–196)
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