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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Retrospective Analysis of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Physician Medical Control Calls


Introduction: Although emergency medical services (EMS) standing-order protocols provide more efficient and accurate on-scene management by paramedics, online medical direction (OLMD) has not been eliminated from practice. In this modern era of OLMD, no studies exist to describe the prevalence of reasons for contacting OLMD.

Objectives: The primary goal of this study was to describe the quantity of and reasons for calls for medical direction. We also sought to determine time diverted from emergency physicians due to OLMD. Finally, we hoped to identify any areas for potential improvement or additional training opportunities for EMS providers.

Methods: This was a descriptive study with retrospective data analysis of recorded OLMD calls from January 1, 2016, to December 31, 2016. Data were extracted by research personnel listening to audio recordings and were entered into a database for descriptive analysis. We abstracted the date and length of call, patient demographic information (age and gender), category of call (trauma, medical, cardiac, or obstetrics), reason for call, and origin of call (prehospital, interhospital, nursing home, or discharge).

Results: The total number of recordings analyzed was 519. Calls were divided into four categories pertaining to their nature: 353 (68.5%) medical; 70 (13.6%) trauma; 83 (16.1%) cardiac; and 9 (8%) were obstetrics related. Repeat calls regarding the same patient encounter comprised 48 (9.4%) of the calls. Patient refusal of transport was the most common reason for a call medical direction (32.3% of calls). The total time for medical direction calls for the year was 26.6 hours. The maximum number of calls in a single day was seven, with a mean of 2.04 calls per day (standard deviation [SD] ± 1.18). The mean call length was 3.06 minutes (SD ± 2.51).

Conclusion: Our analysis shows that the use of OLMD frequently involves complex decision-making such as determination of the medical decision-making capacity of patients to refuse treatment and transport, and evaluation of the appropriate level of care for interfacility transfers. Further investigation into the effect of EMS physician-driven medical direction on both the quality and time required for OLMD could allow for better identification of areas of potential improvement and training.

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