Cognitive Aids in Emergency Medical Services

Authored by: Keaton A. Fletcher , Wendy L. Bedwell

Human Factors and Ergonomics of Prehospital Emergency Care

Print publication date:  March  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9781482242515
eBook ISBN: 9781315280172
Adobe ISBN:


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If there were just one defining characteristic of EMS, it would unequivocally be flawless service as quickly as possible. As Kobusingye et al. (2006, p. 1261) suggest, EMS requires “rapid assessment, timely provision of appropriate interventions, and prompt transportation to the nearest appropriate health facility by the best possible means to enhance survival, control morbidity, and prevent disability” (emphasis added). Within this statement lies an obvious paradox: perform optimally and rapidly. Yet science and practice both suggest a clear speed–accuracy trade-off (Fitts, 1954). So consistent is this finding that it has been named Fitts?s law (MacKenzie, 1992) and, thus, placed on equal footing with other indisputable phenomenon such as gravity and thermodynamics. But the presence of gravity did not stop humans from reaching the moon, nor have the laws of thermodynamics prevented discovery/creation of a variety of superconductors. In short, every law is made to be broken—or at least bent. The question is, how can we bend Fitts?s law to make EMS both exceptionally fast and highly accurate? We argue that the answer lies, at least in part, with cognitive aids.

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