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A Glossary of Emergency Medical Services Terms

A reference guide to the EMS terminology event coordinators and venue operators need to know.

Emergency medical service (EMS) professionals at businesses and events often rely on medical terminology and industry-specific terms when discussing health risks and patient care. This is for good reason, as these terms help precisely describe and diagnose the issues patients are facing, or the type of care being provided. But the reliance on medical language can also leave others in the room lost and confused. When event teams have a basic understanding of the commonly used jargon and industry-specific terms being used by EMS professionals, it can help ensure smoother communication and safer events. 

Use this quick reference guide to emergency medical services terms to help your team understand what’s happening in a crisis and prepare yourself to handle them effectively.

What are Emergency Medical Services?

Emergency medical services, often shortened to EMS, is, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “a system that provides emergency medical care.” This system may include medical personnel like doctors, nurses, and therapists, administrative professionals such as dispatchers or government officials, and either professional or volunteer pre-hospital care teams. It may also include locations such as trauma centers, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, or special care centers.

To put it more simply, EMS is the network of people and systems which respond to urgent situations in which people may be hurt or in serious, immediate danger. These teams work with other public resources such as safety networks to ensure that the community they serve remains safe and healthy.

EMS may be public organizations run by government officials or private companies employed by individual business owners for their businesses or events, such as Joffe Emergency Services. Either way, the responsibility of the service is the same: to protect their community during serious medical events.

EMS versus EMT

Within an emergency medical services system are emergency medical technicians. Commonly shortened as EMTs, these professionals are specially trained to tend to urgent medical needs on-site and if needed, transport patients to longer-term care facilities safely and efficiently.

There are several kinds of EMT:

  • An EMT-B, also known as EMT Basic, is a certified professional who is qualified to respond to common emergencies such as burns, breaks, and minor injuries, as well as can administer supplemental O2. EMT-B certification requires a minimum commitment of 120+ hours, and the successful completion of the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) exam.
  • An EMT-I, or EMT Intermediate, has more medical knowledge and training than an EMT-B. They are often able to assess a patient’s condition, protect their airway in more advanced ways, use certain medical devices such as defibrillators or supplemental oxygen, and administer some medications.
  • An EMT-A, or EMT Advanced, is a step below a paramedic in certification and is able to use more complex techniques and equipment. They often assist paramedics by suctioning intubated patients and preparing IVs. 
  • An EMT-P is a paramedic, the highest certification in emergency medical care. These professionals can perform medical processes that regular EMTs cannot, such as administering an IV, intubating a patient, and administering life support. 

Joffe Emergency Services works with EMTs across the spectrum of certification, and supports our professional team in advancing their certifications if and when they choose to. 

A Glossary of Emergency Medical Services Terms

Here are some common emergency medical services terms that event coordinators and other professionals organizing an event may need to know.

Equipment Acronyms and Slang

Here are some common acronyms and slang terms used by EMT teams and other EMS professionals.

  • CPR, the shortened form of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, is an emergency treatment for cardiac arrest. Anyone can perform hands-only CPR - in which you push hard and fast on the center of the chest to keep the heart beating until help arrives - but most EMTs are trained in more advanced forms of CPR and can keep it going longer. For more information on CPR, you can look to our guide here.
  • AEDs are automated external defibrillators. These are lightweight, portable and battery-operated devices that check the heart’s rhythm, and will send an electric shock to the heart in order to reset its rhythm or restart the muscle’s function completely. Lifesaving courses such as CPR training and AED training are available. You can explore training courses by visiting GetCPRDone.com, and learn more about how to use AED machines.
  • Bagging refers to the application of a bag valve mask (or BVM), which is a self-inflating ventilation device used to administer positive pressure to patients with breathing issues.
  • C-Collars are neck bracing collars that prevent c-spine, or cervical vertebrae, movement if these extremely sensitive bone structures are suspected to be injured.
  • Epinephrine, commonly called by its brand moniker EpiPen, is an injectable drug that is used in emergencies to treat life-threatening allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to insect stings/bites, foods, drugs, or other substances, and even exercise.  It is injected into the middle of the outer thigh.

Common Medical Conditions

Here are some of the most common medical condition terms that you might hear during an emergency, and how to recognize some of them.

  • Anaphylactic shock is when the circulatory system’s function is severely impacted by an allergic reaction. This reaction can include swelling of the face, throat, and body, the development of hives, and extreme skin irritation. If a person is experiencing anaphylactic shock, they will need an immediate epinephrine injection and medical care. (See Epipen, above).
  • Cardiac arrest is the sudden, total cessation of heart function, which, if not immediately treated correctly, is fatal. Victims in cardiac arrest will collapse and become unresponsive, need immediate CPR, and may require the use of a defibrillator. (For more on defibrillators, see AED definition above.) 
  • Collapsed lungs happen due to some diseases and more often due to impact injuries to the chest such as might happen during a car accident. This condition, also called a pneumothorax, is when air gets in between the lung and the chest wall, pushing the lung down and causing it to collapse out of its usual shape. It is painful and requires immediate medical care, but is not always life-threatening. 
  • Tachycardia is a condition in which the heart is beating abnormally fast, at over 100 beats per minute. This condition comes in many varieties including atrial (centralized in the atria of the heart and not usually life-threatening), supra-ventricular (centralized in the ventricles of the heart and life-threatening if not corrected), and ventricular (centralized in the ventricles and has the potential to turn into ventricular fibrillation, which is life-threatening).
  • Ventricular Fibrillation is uncontrolled spasming of the heart without any cardiac output. This quickly results in death if the heart is not corrected immediately through electric defibrillation.

Codes and Situations

Here are some common codes and situations you may encounter when dealing with EMS.

  • BLS stands for basic life support and refers to the treatments that can be administered by an EMT of any level to promote patient safety before paramedics arrive.
  • ALS stands for advanced life support, and it refers to a variety of life-saving treatments administered by paramedics prior to and during their transportation to the hospital. 
  • LOC generally refers to either “loss of consciousness” or “level of consciousness,” depending on the situation and location. An EMT may say that the patient has “no LOC” if they remain conscious after an injury, or they may say that there has been “no change in LOC.” As a side note, in mathematics and in medical shorthand, the symbol for the Greek letter Delta, “Δ,”  refers to “change”. 
  • The MICU, Mobile Intensive Care Unit, is a vehicle equipped to provide ALS onsite. It is often mistaken for an ambulance - a transport vehicle with BLS supplies - and sometimes even labeled as one for the sake of convenience.
  • Some EMS professionals refer to major vehicle accidents as MVAs or MVCs (major vehicle collisions), although many simply refer to them as a crash.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to include all of the terms you might need to know in an emergency given the wide array of possible emergencies, so though this glossary is extensive, it isn’t exhaustive. When considering the need for emergency services at your business or next event, we hope that, in reading this, you’ll find yourself more prepared and understanding.

If you’re ready to see what emergency medical services can provide for you and your business or event, contact Joffe Emergency Services today for a consultation. We’re happy to work with you to keep your community happy, healthy, and safe.

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