What Paramedics Do to Help Save Lives

paramedics helping someone into an abulance
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Paramedics are often called to emergency situations when someone is in need of immediate medical attention. What they do exactly varies from country to country, state to state, and even county to county. The term paramedic refers to several levels of training, though their basic duty is to give initial life-saving care to those in need.

Quite often, paramedic is used as a general term relating to all emergency medical services personnel. Paramedics in the United States are just one type of emergency medical technician (EMT). There are two other levels: EMT-Basic and EMT-Intermediate.

Basic Duties of a Paramedic

Paramedics in most states have relatively similar scopes of practice. Generally, they can:

  • Manage emergency teams
  • Do CPR
  • Shock hearts
  • Read a diagnostic electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Apply transcutaneous pacemakers to control heart arrhythmias
  • Triage victims
  • Administer around 30 different medications
  • Support breathing with tubes and ventilation devices
  • Stick needles in the chest to decompress collapsed lungs
  • Stick needles in the neck (or cut a hole) to make new airways
  • Apply a variety of splints
  • Deliver babies
  • Dress wounds and control bleeding
  • Give fluid intravenously to treat shock or dehydration
  • Stick needles in bone when veins aren't readily available

Paramedics' Use of Advanced Life Support

Paramedics practice what is known as advanced life support (ALS). As impressive as it sounds to be the advanced practitioner, it's often not the most important level.

In first aid, the more basic the training, the more significant the skill. For example, CPR is the most basic of all medical courses, but it is only used when the heart stops. This is arguably the worst medical emergency possible.

The benefits of paramedic training come after the basic life-saving has already happened. In fact, when a paramedic saves a life, there is a good chance it was by using basic skills rather than ALS. Advanced care helps victims stay alive once the good application of basic skills has stabilized them.

You can think of emergency medical care as a pyramid: the most important and basic skills save the most people. The higher you go up the pyramid in advanced techniques, the fewer patients you are able to save with those skills. It's not that the treatments aren't beneficial, just that there are fewer patients who actually need ALS.

Besides life-saving procedures, paramedics also have a cache of skills and medications that can make patients more comfortable. In a more indirect way, those procedures can affect a patient's long-term survival. Anti-emetics, for example, can help alleviate a patient's vomiting. This means they are less likely to choke on emesis (vomit) or to become dehydrated.

What Paramedics Do Beyond Treating Traumas

The primary focus of paramedics began with cardiac life support and that remains a significant portion of their training. Overall, paramedics in North America and other industrialized societies are extremely helpful in patients with disease conditions unrelated to traumatic injury.

In these medical patients, the training and tools available to paramedics are often invaluable in helping to diagnose and treat their conditions. For instance, if someone has trouble breathing, a paramedic may be the first medical professional they encounter. This may lead to the realization that they have asthma or any other respiratory condition.

A Word From Verywell

Paramedics are skilled medical professionals who are trained to deal with emergencies. Quite often, their skill set includes administering basic first aid, which is essential to saving lives, but it frequently goes beyond that. It's an important career that can be rewarding for both the paramedic and the people they encounter.

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