Introduction: In the USA, the emergency medical services (EMS) system is vital for American Indians and Alaska Natives, who are disproportionately burdened by injuries and diseases and often live in rural areas geographically far from hospitals. In rural areas, where significant health disparities exist, EMS is often a primary source of healthcare providing a safety net for uninsured individuals or families who otherwise lack access to health-related services. EMS is frequently the first entry point for children and their families into the healthcare system. The Indian Health Service (IHS) supports the federally funded, tribally operated EMS agencies to help meet the affiliated American Indian and Alaska Natives’ pre-hospital needs. While periodic assessments of state EMS agencies capabilities to care for children occur, it appears a systematic assessment of IHS EMS agencies in regards to children had not been previously conducted.
Methods: A consensus process, involving stakeholders, was used to identify topic areas for a survey for assessing the pediatric capabilities of IHS EMS. The survey was sent to 75 of 88 IHS EMS agency contacts.
Results: Sixty-one agencies (81%) responded. Nine agencies (15%) did not have a medical director. Agencies without a medical director were less likely to report the availability of online (p=0.1) or offline (p<0.01) pediatric medical direction. Half (51%) of the agencies had a mass casualties plan; however, 29% reported responding to a mass casualty incident, involving a large number of pediatric patients, that overwhelmed their service. Most agencies were well integrated with their state EMS system with almost all (95%) collecting EMS patient care data and 47% using national standard data elements.
Conclusions: In some areas, IHS EMS agencies did not have the infrastructure to treat pediatric patients during day-to-day operations as well as disasters. Similar to operational challenges faced by rural EMS agencies, the IHS agencies lacked a medical director, were unable to provide pediatric continuing education, and were overwhelmed during mass casualty incidents. Moreover, the overall ratio of IHS EMS to service population is almost double that for other EMS agencies. In other areas, agencies were well integrated with their state EMS system. One possible solution to increase capabilities to care for pediatric patients is combining and sharing of common resources including medical directors with their state EMS systems and authorities.