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EMS and pandemic in India

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Given the current scenario that the entire world is in, where life has become more fragile than ever, is also the right time to evaluate the healthcare system of India, writes Manish Sacheti, Chief Financial Officer, Ziqitza Healthcare

The one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has done is brought to fore the healthcare ecosystems of the countries across the globe. Healthcare is one of the important scales of measurement of progress for any developed or developing countries. Any country’s evolution or growth can be directly reflected through the quality of life its citizens are living and healthcare forms a major part of it.

Given the current scenario that the entire world is in, where life has become more fragile than ever, is also the right time to evaluate the healthcare system of the countries, especially India. India has been striving hard for decades to elevate its healthcare system – be it having able and efficient doctors, supporting staff or technicians. Further, advancing its network of hospitals in terms of the latest types of equipment and machines required for advanced care of the patients or the overall facilities for a quality treatment. One most important component which is being consistently ignored is the ‘ambulance service/emergency response service’ – which is the first unit of any healthcare system that comes in direct contact with the patients.

Let’s first clearly define the role of EMS during the pandemic or otherwise. Essentially, an ambulance service is responsible for the easy and timely transfer of patients to the nearby hospital for immediate care and treatment. Similarly, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of EMS primarily remains transferring COVID patients, whether positive or suspect. Additionally, activities such as handling migrant patients, transferring and managing the underprivileged or destitute communities during such times are also performed by the EMS crew, ensuring they receive timely medical assistance, etc.

With the alarming rise in the COVID cases across the country, the pressure on the Emergency Response Service has increased tremendously, and the system across the country is struggling to meet the ends. The EMS service providers had to upscale and elevate their operations literally within 24 hours to prepare for the pandemic. This included training the crew, ensuring maintenance of the vehicles, checking and audit on equipment inside the ambulances, ensuring the safety of the crew, etc. setting of call centers; where the government provided all the necessary support and guidelines to prepare the unit to fight the pandemic.

This also brought to fore the limitations and challenges the EMS service faced in India. Today, for every one lakh population, we have one ambulance, whereas as per the global benchmark, one lakh of population has five ambulances. Additionally, poor infrastructure and road connectivity, lack of trained and skilled workers paly a huge hindrance. EMS is largely unorganised, where each state has different rules and regulations or guidelines for operating the service. This uneven distribution and way of functioning create a hurdle in the quality of the service for the end-users.

Nonetheless, considering all these limitations, it wouldn’t be boisterous to state that EMS providers have served fair and are doing every bit within their capacity to fight the war against pandemic as frontline corona warriors across the country. We alone through 108 helpline, have transferred approximately 27,000 COVID patients to date, our call centers operating in various regions get vaguely 20,000 COVID enquiries daily, where we resolve their queries on-call or assign the vehicle for patient transfer, as per the need.

It is now inevitable for the concerned authorities to consider uplifting the EMS scenario of the country and ensure its preparedness for such pandemics which may arise in the future.

With the constantly growing demand for an efficient healthcare ecosystem in India, Emergency Medical Services would be an important constituent in elevating the quality of lives of the people with an evidence-based and future-oriented work in the sector. Over the years, several advancements have been made and research is ongoing to create services that provide medical assistance to the patients at the earliest. Here are some of the key points to be considered to ensure that India is seen on the global maps for its efficient and effective EMS operations:

  • Consider EMS as a sector under “healthcare”
  • Have uniform operating guidelines across states to maximise the service
  • Training and skilling of healthcare workers
  • Improved infrastructure and connectivity
  • Adequate budgets for upscaling and advancement of the service
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