Author Beware: Provider Scope of Practice (EMS)

Here I am, happily reading along one of my favorite mainstream suspense authors, when a glaring medical mistake takes me right out of the story. Bummer! Now I’m wondering how long it would have taken this well known author to make one phone call to determine if this situation was plausible or not.

The scenario: The hero in our story is injured but doesn’t want to be transported by EMS to the hospital. He’s got other important things to do– like catch a killer. Awesome. EMS has him sign a release form and he’s on his way BUT the EMS team has given him an oral dose of a narcotic and two to take in the future when the pain comes back.

Did you hear that? That was steam billowing out of my ears.

This is a very common mistake authors make— issues that deal with scope of practice. I’ve blogged about it several times. This post has links to several others that just deal with scope of practice.

In simple terms, scope of practice is what a health care provider can and cannot do. EVERY licensed health care provider (a nursing assistant, a nurse, an EMT, a paramedic, a physician, a physical therapist, a pharmacist) has a scope of practice that is governed by their licensing board– whoever that might be. These governing boards determine the rules of practice. If the licensee does something outside of these rules they can be brought up on disciplinary action and even potentially lose their license. Scope of practice rules can vary from state to state.

In short– it’s bad to operate outside your scope of practice.

For instance, this document gives a pretty detailed overview of the medical treatments different EMS professionals can do.

The first problem with the author’s scenario is that EMS professionals do not carry oral narcotics to give to patients. Only IV and those that can be administered nasally.

The second problem is that EMS professionals not only operate under scope of practice laws but also medical protocols which outline the things they can do in the field and under what conditions. In fact, here’s a whole document that lists the EMS protocols for one hospital in Colorado that would give a nice overview for what likely happens in the US. There will be differences state to state but you could reasonably generalize from this.

Essentially, a paramedic giving a patient (who is refusing medical treatment) three doses of an oral narcotic (which he doesn’t carry) is a serious violation of his scope of practice. Only a few medical roles can prescribe oral narcotics and dispensing oral narcotics is the role of a pharmacist.

Authors should take scope of practice as seriously as medical professionals do because though your book might be fiction– the public will take it as fact.

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