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Ambulance redesign boosts safety for paramedics, patients

November 29, 2019

CALGARY – New ambulances being delivered to Alberta Health Services (AHS) Emergency Medical Services (EMS) are safer for paramedics and patients following a redesign based on a provincial research study.

AHS Emergency Medical Services (EMS) conducted the study in partnership with researchers at the O’Brien Institute for Public Health’s W21C Research and Innovation Centre, within the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. Dozens of front-line paramedics contributed to the study through driving simulations and training scenarios conducted across the province.

“We spent nearly two years working with front-line paramedics, studying how they moved around in an ambulance, where they looked, where they tended to reach, or support themselves when they were moving around,” says Mike Plato, EMS Associate Executive Director of Business Standards and Operations Support.

“We know that it’s safest when paramedics can provide care from one of the three seats in the patient compartment, safely belted in, so part of what we wanted to do was determine how to reconfigure the area around the seats to limit how frequently paramedics need to get up.”

Among the changes:

  • Improved overall layout and seat design to encourage seatbelt use.
  • Rounded corners on interior surfaces to prevent injuries.
  • Adding lips or rounded edges to counters to prevent falling objects.
  • Putting most-used tools and equipment in easy reach of the primary caregiver seat.
  • Placing garbage and sharps containers in better proximity to the primary seat.
  • Additional grab handle added for stability.
  • Adding a hydraulic lift for main oxygen tank.
  • Additional work surfaces added (drawers, pull-out shelving).

There are nearly 420 ambulances in the AHS EMS fleet provincewide, and between 60 to 70 older ambulances are replaced with new vehicles every year. All new ambulances incorporate the study’s recommended changes. There is no extra cost for the modifications. More than two-thirds of all AHS EMS ambulances already include some of the design changes.

“Ambulances that are safer for paramedics are also safer for patients,” says EMS Chief Paramedic Darren Sandbeck. “When we are able to reduce the likelihood of the paramedic needing to navigate around a moving vehicle – even carefully navigate – there’s less risk of the paramedic being injured during a sudden stop or evasive manoeuvre, and less risk to the patient.”

This is the first major study in Canada to re-evaluate ambulance design. Until now, ambulance design has been focused on equipment and gear needed in the patient compartment, says Dr. Jeff Caird, U of C professor and study co-author.

“This is the first study done where the focus was on keeping paramedics seated, and belted in for their safety and the patient’s safety,” Dr. Caird says. “We needed to redesign the patient compartment to make things more accessible to the paramedics while seated.”

These are just the latest changes to AHS EMS ambulances aimed at improving safety for paramedics and patients. EMS recently introduced new power load stretchers, which have also helped contribute to a significant reduction in injuries. A specially designed arm will allow a heart rate monitor-defibrillator unit – typically secured to a counter inside the ambulance – to now be attached to the power load stretcher, meaning no trailing wires for paramedics to step over.

“We firmly believe these changes, though they may seem small, are helping to create a much safer environment for our front-line paramedics and for patients,” says Sandbeck. “We will continue to work with the manufacturer to make our vehicles as safe as possible.”

The number of on-the-job injuries for AHS EMS staff has decreased 16 per cent in the past three years.

The results of the study were published in the spring issue of Applied Ergonomics, and are being shared with other provinces and jurisdictions across North America.

The University of Calgary is a global intellectual hub located in Canada’s most enterprising city. In our spirited, high-quality learning environment, students thrive in programs made rich by research, hands-on experiences and entrepreneurial thinking. Our strategy drives us to be recognized as one of Canada’s top five research universities, engaging the communities we both serve and lead.

The University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) is driven to create the future of health. We are a proud leader with seven world-class research institutes and 2,900 students, as well as faculty and staff, working to advance education and research in precision medicine and precision public health, improving lives in our community and around the world.

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.

For media inquiries, contact:

Erin Lawrence
AHS Communications