I read an article this morning where Winnipeg declared Cellphones off limits for firefighters, paramedics with only some surprise. Sure there are the embarrassments like the Texas Firefighter Charged With Taking Secret Bathroom Pics who need to be drummed out of the system. And I understand that new technology can be a scary thing – especially from a legal perspective, but our reaction to any sort of potential change is always predicated by our view of the staff we employ. If staff are viewed only as automatons, they need constant micromanagement even at the most basic level. If they are viewed as professionals, they need only to understand the tools they have, the overall mission they are given, the latitude of their autonomy, and the impact of their misjudgment.
Businesses in the private sector have struggled for many years over the risk and rewards of giving employees increased access to sensitive corporate information from mobile devices. Once the technology was finally embraced, the initial result was huge expenditures for company-owned devices that quickly became outdated. As a result, many organizations have now embraced a BYOD (“Bring Your Own Device”) policy to leverage the employee’s willingness and need to provide current mobile technology for use outside of the office. While it certainly increases the workload for corporate IT professionals to support and secure these devices, it has been determined that the improved productivity, increased job satisfaction, and in some cases even lowered equipment cost outweigh the investment. The risk of exposure is still there, but when employees are properly treated as professionals they become empowered allies instead of floating liabilities. In some ways the case is much easier for EMS.
In the EMS setting, there are countless objects, many provided inside an ambulance, that can harm a patient if they are misused or mistreated. However, when they are used properly many of these same tools can mean an improved outcome for the patient or even the organization. What makes the application different in either case is an implicit trust in the knowledge of the professional in applying it properly. Recently, I have posted links on some uses of smartphones in EMS including Using an iPhone to detect ear infections. Just today another post from my paramedic friend Greg Friese shared his slide set on Integrating Smartphones and Tablet Devices into EMS Education from EMS World Expo. Another paramedic friend named Chris Matthews maintains a blog site called The Unwired Medic specifically to share useful applications of mobile technology. Whole businesses have sprung up to provide mobile applications for continuing education during downtime in the station or at a post as well as references to be used during a call. Check out the Smartphones offer valuable, versatile tool article for many more uses.
The problem isn’t allowing another new device in the EMS setting, it is in establishing the mission, boundaries, and implications of improper use of whatever that new tool might be. There are all sorts of potential problems with tools, but banning a potentially useful tool because of an employee trust issue is just a sign of deeper problems within the organization.