A Quick Look at the Evolution of Emergency Medical Services
The field of medicine has come a long way over the years. Many folks realize that treatments such as antibiotics and advanced surgery are relatively new. Meanwhile, treatments like cleaning and bandaging wounds have been around for much longer. One area of medicine that’s been around for a long time, but that has also evolved tremendously over the past several decades, is emergency medical services (EMS).
Today, emergency medical service providers have access to advanced technologies, like P25 technology that enables easy communication over radio, internet, and satellite networks, among others. This enables more rapid response and coordination. Yet just a few hundred years ago, dedicated, specially designed ambulances didn’t even really exist. Let’s take a closer look at the evolution of this field.
Born on the Battlefield
Many of the earliest examples of emergency medical care come from the battlefield. As is the nature of war, injuries were common, and injured troops needed care. One of the earliest examples of organized emergency medical care is the Knights Hospitaller, which was founded in the 12th century and participated in the Crusades. Parts of this Christian order were dedicated to providing care to soldiers injured on the battlefield. Today, a successor organization called the Sovereign Military Order of Malta still provides medical care across the world and is considered a sovereign entity that can issue passports, despite having no territory.
Dominique Jean Larrey, the chief surgeon under Napoleon, later paved the way for the first specifically-designed ambulances. In Napolean’s time, soldiers were often left injured on the battlefield until after the battle concluded. Larrey developed a system for providing initial care on the battlefield, then getting the wounded off the field even if combat was ongoing. This required specially designed ambulances.
Modern Emergency Medical Services Take Shape
In the 1830s, London was often plagued by outbreaks of cholera. While doctors then still understood little about what caused specific illnesses, they were developing effective treatments. More experts were also realizing that quarantining sick patients could stop illnesses from spreading. Back then, it was common for medical practitioners to travel to the sick to treat them, but this was time-consuming. In London in 1832, carriages were used to transport cholera patients to dedicated medical facilities, which improved care and slowed the spread of the disease.
In 1865, the Commercial Hospital in Cincinnati started to operate an ambulance service. Hospitals in New York followed suit afterward. While early ambulances were often drawn by horse, they did come equipped with then modern medical equipment, like stomach pumps.
Modern EMS Arrives in the 20th Century
The 20th century ushered in many important technologies for EMS service providers. One of the most important was the automobile. As driving became more common, road networks spread, and this made it easier for ambulances to reach patients. Combustion-engine ambulances also performed much better than horse-drawn ambulances.
Just as crucially, communication networks spread in the 19th and 20th centuries. Phone networks made it easier for the sick or those caring for them to contact medical services. Communication made it simpler to dispatch and coordinate ambulances, medical providers, and more. Hospitals could also be more easily warned of spreading diseases or major events, like approaching powerful storms that could produce injuries.
One of the most important inventions was the mobile two-way radio. Initially developed for police emergency services, it was quickly adopted by medical emergency services. Radios allowed ambulance drivers to communicate with hospitals, the police, and other parties. This greatly improved coordination, quality of care, and more.
These days, many emergency services still rely on radios. However, because cell phone networks, satellite networks, and other communication networks are now more prevalent, it often helps to send radio signals over such networks. Fortunately, with p25 network IP relays, doing so is much easier. GPS also makes it easier to find patients and navigate roadways. As a result, modern EMS is often much more responsive and effective than in the past.
Ambulances today can reach patients more quickly and are often equipped with advanced lifesaving technologies and medicines. The Centers for Disease Control report that more than 15 million patients use ambulance services per year. EMS can save lives and improve the quality of care.