Next tool in NJ’s opioid overdose fight could be tracking EMS data
New Jersey may finally start requiring EMS providers and dispatch centers to report details of each encounter with a patient, so state health officials can track, analyze and improve response to medical emergencies in New Jersey.
Paramedics said they welcome the bipartisan bill proposed Thursday. Scott Kasper, chairman of New Jersey EMS Council, said providers already collect most if not all of the information and would want to share it electronically if it could lead to better care for patients.
“What we say is we’re data rich but information poor. So this will give the Department of Health the opportunity to really centralize all of that data in a way that’s meaningful and useful to help decisions,” Kasper said.
“There’s always the question: Does what we do make a difference? Does what we do matter? And we don’t know that unless we can actually look at the data, compare what we’re doing to the outcome of the patient,” he said. “We might get to a patient really fast, but if the patient doesn’t have a great outcome and a discharge from the hospital, how important was that that we got there fast?”
Sponsors of the bill include the chairmen of the Senate and Assembly health committees.
Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr., D-Burlington, says the only way to improve emergency medical services, or any system for that matter, is to have the data necessary to plan and deploy resources properly – in this case, vehicles, personnel and follow-up care.
“You know change needs to come and you can’t do it in a data vacuum. Lives are at stake, and you should try not to guess,” Conaway said.
“As we get to people and understand what’s going on in that pre-hospital system, we could better improve it. You can’t drive change without having the data to help you plan properly, to help you deploy resources, to help you know where perhaps you’re not doing as well as you’d like to do,” he said.
Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, said the tracking system can be helpful in trying to prevent opioid overdose deaths.
“To get this information in real time will be critically important, particularly when this epidemic rears its head and spikes from time to time in counties like Monmouth and Ocean and around the state,” Vitale said.
For instance, state health officials would be able to track where multiple doses of naxalone are being deployed on a single patient, as a hint for where fentanyl is being added to heroin. Then the public, medics and hospital officials can be alerted to that information.
“So it’s one more piece of the puzzle in terms of trying to address the opioid epidemic here in the state,” Vitale said.
Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, said New Jersey would be among the last states to aggregate such data.
“These folks on the front line and these services and this data we’re going to collect will be the canary in the coal mine. Lab reports can take days. This data that we’re going to collect and make use of in almost real time,” O’Scanlon said.
The report would include information such as the date, time and location of the incident, the number of people involved, the nature of the emergency and its outcome, such as whether people were treated or refused treatment, were transported to a hospital or died.
Two years after the bill’s effective date, should it become law, the Department of Health could start tracking and recording response times for EMS providers.
As a sign of the bill’s importance to lawmakers, it was assigned the number S5; low numbers such as that are kept in preserve for high-priority legislation. The second prime sponsor, after Vitale, is Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester.
The Assembly companion bill is A4925.