The Role of Body Cameras in EMS – Dr. Northeim & Chris Briggs

Education by the Sea 2024 - Speaker Spotlight - 9 Northeim and Briggs

Texas’ most engaging EMS conference is approaching swiftly! Education By The Sea arrives in Port Aransas on May 8-10, 2024, and registrations are open through mid-April. Dive into the details of the 2024 conference through our sneak peek series featuring speakers and sessions. 

Meet Dr. Justin Northeim, Medical Director for BEST EMS/PCHD, and Chris Briggs, EMS Deputy Director for Parker County Hospital District. They will present the “The Role of Body-Worn Cameras in EMS” session on Thursday, May 9, at 2:00 p.m.

At 15, Dr. Justin Northeim was drawn to EMS. With no family medical background, he got into the field as a dispatcher for a private service in Ohio. When he turned 18, Northeim pursued his EMT and began to work in a medical unit. That was the beginning of his journey. “I went to college and then took two years to apply for medical school. I worked on a 24-hour 911 truck there, so I got to experience EMS,” Northeim remembers. Inspired by his medical director then, Northeim decided to seek a career in emergency medicine and become a medical director. Now, he dedicates time to educating and empowering EMS providers through BEST EMS. 

The number 20 must hold a special significance for Chris Briggs. As the Deputy Director celebrates his 20-year career, he recalls starting in the industry at 20. However, the path that anchored Briggs in EMS originated for an unusual reason. “I heard that firefighters only worked ten days a month and, as a lazy high school kid, that sounded appealing,” Briggs jokes. He pursued his credentials, and although his initial motivation was the schedule, Briggs confesses finding his calling in the field. “After paramedic school, I fell in love with emergency medicine and decided to take the EMS path instead,” he recollects. 

Reasoning Behind the Topic 

Parker County Hospital District championed the implementation of body cameras in EMS. As Deputy Director, Briggs recognizes them as invaluable tools for improvement and accountability. “It’s a sensitive topic in the industry because of the patient privacy side. However, there’s so much to learn from our mistakes on video,” he states. Dr. Northeim admits to initially having reservations that later resulted in a mindset shift. “We are always scared of something different or new. But I am a huge fan now. From an education perspective, there’s nothing better,” he emphasizes. 

The Deputy Director explained that supervisors can’t be everywhere simultaneously. Body cameras are an alternative to review the crew’s response to calls, analyze if the PCR reflects what happened, and evaluate room for improvement. “It’s not a ‘big brother’ system, it’s an opportunity to see a more accurate picture,” Briggs defends. “It’s hard to perceive what happened on a call, especially the stressful ones. So, the ability to rewatch it and review what we could’ve done better is valuable. And we can still maintain patient privacy and follow all the HIPAA guidelines.”

According to Northeim, their experience using body cameras has helped significantly. “The truth is we’re all doing the best work we can – there’s nothing to hide. These devices shouldn’t be a tool to reprimand. On the contrary, it should protect the team. There have been complaints where we looked at the videos, and it defends the crew more than anything,” he agrees. Moreover, he highlighted the utility of enabling remote assistance from medical professionals during critical interventions. “We can watch and listen to everything that’s happening. There have been complex cases where they had 20-30 seconds to act, and we got a physician who is 60 miles away on the phone to help make crucial decisions,” Northeim recalls. 

Session Insights

The forthcoming session will offer comprehensive guidance on implementing and utilizing body-worn cameras in EMS. “We’ll discuss the initial steps, how to manage the device, and strategies to use on 24/48-hour shifts. I want to cover the essential information that a Chief or Operations Director would need for the implementation,” Briggs explains. 

Dr. Northeim intends to focus on the educational and operational standpoint. He will share how his perspective on body-worn cameras has changed and display patient-authorized videos. “We are going to be very honest with incidents we helped educate our crew about. Situations in which we wouldn’t identified the mistake without the body cams, and it would’ve possibly occurred another 20 times before being corrected,” he notes. 

Industry Outlook

Both Directors agree that while the EMS industry has made significant strides, there remains ample room for growth. “When I started, we basically loaded the patient in the ambulance and drove them to the hospital. We thought the diesel fuel would save lives, and that’s not the case. We learned that staying on scene and stabilizing the patient first is crucial to reducing mortality rates,” Northeim summarizes. “However, investment-wise, we haven’t changed much. If you look at fire-based systems, they don’t have the same amount of fires as before. A suburban Texan agency might have three monthly fire and 300 EMS calls. Yet, the resources put towards EMS are the same,” he reflects. 

For Briggs, the industry is still in its infancy regarding education. “For a long time, we worried more about putting many paramedics out in the streets. It was quantity over quality. Now, we’re seeing major colleges promoting EMS degrees. Our industry is finally reaching a point where higher education is respected and valued,” he believes. 

Don’t miss Dr. Northeim and Chris Briggs’s “The Role of Body-Worn Cameras in EMS” session on Thursday, May 9, at 2:00 p.m.

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