Can You See Me Now? Body-Worn Cameras in EMS

By Jay Barkdull, FF, EMT-P | – JEMS

The use of body-worn cameras in EMS has been a controversial topic in EMS for several years. Despite this controversy, North Channel EMS, located in Texas, took a calculated leap and fully implemented body cameras for all crew members in April 2016.

North Channel EMS is located in East Harris County, Texas and covers a 9.9 square mile service area. The daytime population is 50,000. The North Channel EMS system handles 5,100 responses annually with three full time ALS units and one peak time unit

All crew members wear Wolfcom body cameras on all incidents and all interactions in the patient care area on the medic units are recorded via a system purchased from Data 911 products.

Medic unit patient compartment video uploads automatically when the crews return to the station. The individual body-worn camera video is uploaded manually at the end of each shift. The deputy director is the gatekeeper for all video.

Cardiac arrests, STEMI’s, rapid sequence intubations and major trauma incidents are all reviewed along with randomly selected incidents. Patient care reports are reviewed daily. Either review process can initiate a formal QA/QI review requiring one or more of the crew member’s involvement.

Patient Compartment Recording

Utilizing video is not a new concept for North Channel EMS. We began utilizing in-unit (patient compartment) video recording in our ambulances in 2007. Video recording in our patient care compartment was initially met with distrust from our crew members.

Crews were initially concerned about “Big Brother” watching over everything. After we used video from the patient compartment to disprove libelous allegations against one of our crew members—all crews realized the benefit of video.

You would think that after using patient compartment video for eight years, adding body cameras would be accepted easily by front line medics. You would be wrong. We initially had the same resistance with the implementation of body cameras. Again, it took video evidence to disprove blatantly false allegations against a few medics for the body cameras to be accepted.

Body Cameras are Effective Tools

The combination of in-unit and individual body camera videos have proven to be effective tools for North Channel EMS. Our crew members wear body cameras on all calls and do not hesitate to inform administration of incidents that should be reviewed.

Body camera video has been used successfully to disprove accusations such as assault, rude behavior, theft, lost items, and treatment/therapy issues. As such, the body-worn camera have proven to be a nearly definitive tool for dispute resolution.

In addition, body-worn cameras have provided a valuable feedback system for improving care. The goal of any EMS agency should be to provide the best patient care possible. EMS is a data-driven industry. Everything we document should be used to improve patient care, patient outcomes and emergency medical services. By implementing body cameras, we discovered a treasure trove of information that assists us in building a better service.

Prior to body-worn cameras, we relied on electronic or paper documentation to collect this data, knowing that it’s next to impossible for a paramedic or EMT to document an entire encounter. It is even more difficult to properly document bystander and family interaction.

Watch the body cam footage below to see an ambulance crew respond to an incident.

The addition of body-worn cameras provides another method for collecting data which can be used to augment the information captured by the Paramedic/EMT. This additional data is reviewed with an eye toward improving the processes we use for delivering the best care possible.

Using body cameras is like having an electronic supervisor on location for every call and provides critical oversight. The demeanor of most of our crew members has been affected in a positive way since the implementation of body-worn cameras. Human nature does still kick in and some performance and customer services issues will be brought to your immediate attention by the body-worn cameras.

Beware, you may not like everything you see. Be prepared to have that “We are not who we thought we were” moment. Fortunately, system administrators and medical directors get a real-time look into their organization to improve any shortcomings.

It’s important to be honest with ourselves that no agency or work place is perfect. North Channel EMS has identified several areas that we feel need to be addressed. Most of these should not surprise anyone. We need more training on dealing with combative patients, the homeless, those who are detained and intoxicated patients.

Multiple equipment issues have also been identified through use of the body-worn cameras. For example, we learned that our mechanical CPR device prohibited the proper use of video laryngoscopy on certain patients. Therefore, policies, procedures and even protocols are being improved or modified due to our use of body camera and in-unit video.

We view an incident from the moment a unit pulls out of the station until they arrive at the emergency department doors.

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