Role of the physician in the prehospital setting

Paul E. Pepe, Ronald D. Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Despite the initial successes achieved in early emergency medical services (EMS) systems, many prehospital care services have developed without the intense involvement of physicians whose interest fueled the first experimental medical programs of prehospital care. Among a myriad of variables affecting EMS is the important element of intense, authoritative physician involvement in education, field supervision, and research. Recognizing this problem, many states now have legislated that EMS systems be closely supervised by medical directors. Political and financial constraints often have diluted medical influence and authority, and intense, direct field supervision is the exception rather than the rule. Successful EMS systems can demonstrate their influence on morbidity and mortality through appropriate data collection and quality assurance programs. Such programs appear to have in common the element of direct involvement of competent physicians in initial training, field supervision, and policy decisions. Until recently, full-time compensated physician involvement in EMS has been regarded as unnecessary or impractical. Certainly in large urban centers such full-time involvement is mandatory. While in smaller municipalities full-time commitments may be unnecessary, partial compensation for time dedicated to EMS pursuits should be part of the EMS budget. It has been the experience of major urban EMS systems that field participation by physicians has lent irrefutable credibility to the authority of medical directors. Beyond the obvious benefits of quality assurance and supervision, the in-field EMS physician provides the impetus and leadership for EMS research conducted at the street level. Because EMS is the practice of medicine through physician surrogates in a prehospital setting, it sets the stage and tone for subsequent patient care and outcome. As such, prehospital care has the potential benefits and dangers of any finely honed medical instrument.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1480-1483
Number of pages4
JournalAnnals of Emergency Medicine
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1986


  • emergency medical services, physician's role
  • prehospital care, physician's role

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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