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The Ebola virus disease outbreak highlighted the lack of consistent guidelines and training for workers outside of hospital settings. Specifically, emergency medical services (EMS) workers, who are frequently the first professionals to evaluate patients, often do not have advanced notice of patient diagnosis, and have limited time in their national curricula devoted to highly infectious disease (HID) identification and containment. All of these can place them at increased risk. To explore the depth of US EMS practitioners' HID training and education, a pilot gap analysis survey was distributed to determine where the aforementioned can be bolstered to increase occupational safety.
Electronic surveys were distributed to EMS organization members. The survey collected respondent willingness to encounter HID scenarios; current policies and procedures; and levels of knowledge, training, and available resources to address HIDs.
A total of 2,165 surveys were initiated and collected. Eighty percent of frontline personnel were aware that their agency had an HID standard operating guideline. Almost 85% of respondents correctly marked routes of exposure for select HIDs. More than half of respondents indicated no maximum shift times in personal protective equipment.
This research suggests EMS practitioners could benefit from enhanced industry-specific education, training, and planning on HID mitigation and management.
Strengthening EMS preparedness in response to suspected or confirmed HID cases may not only improve patient outcomes, but also worker and community safety.