Who does what in prehospital critical care? An analysis of competencies of paramedics, critical care paramedics and prehospital physicians

Emerg Med J. 2014 Dec;31(12):1009-13. doi: 10.1136/emermed-2013-202895. Epub 2013 Aug 21.


Introduction: Emergency medical services in the UK are facing the challenge of responding to an increasing number of calls, often for non-emergency care, while also providing critical care to the few severely ill or injured patients. In response, paramedic training in the UK has been extended and there are regional strategies to improve prehospital critical care (PHCC). We describe the clinical competencies of three groups of prehospital providers in the UK with the aim of informing future planning of the delivery of PHCC.

Methods: We used a data triangulation approach to obtain lists of competencies for paramedics, critical care paramedics (CCPs) and PHCC physicians of the Great Western Ambulance Service. Data sources were professional guidance documents, equipment available to the provider, log sheets of prehospital care episodes, direct observations and a survey of providers.

Results: We identified 389, 441 and 449 competencies for paramedics, CCPs and PHCC physicians, respectively. Competencies of CCPs and PHCC physicians which exceeded those of paramedics can be arranged in four distinct clusters: induction and maintenance of anaesthesia, procedural sedation, advanced cardiovascular management and complex invasive interventions.

Discussion: Paramedics possess a considerable number of competencies which allow them to diagnose and treat a variety of conditions. CCPs and PHCC physicians possess a few additional critical care competencies which are potentially life-saving but are required infrequently and can carry significant risks. Concentration of training and clinical exposure for a small group of providers in critical care teams can help optimising benefits and reducing risks of PHCC.

Keywords: emergency ambulance systems; paramedics, clinical management; paramedics, extended roles; prehospital care; prehospital care, doctors in PHC.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Allied Health Personnel / organization & administration*
  • Ambulances / statistics & numerical data
  • Clinical Competence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Critical Care / methods*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Emergency Medical Services / organization & administration*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Care Team / organization & administration
  • Patient Outcome Assessment
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / organization & administration
  • Professional Competence / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • United Kingdom