Would you be comfortable wearing a body camera while you work? Would you consider it a threat to your privacy or a welcome deterrent for assaults and false accusations? For many people in the EMS field, the answer is far from black-and-white.
As some U.S. communities have begun expanding the use of body cameras beyond the police force, other workers must face a range of pros and cons. In Miami, for example, employees in parking, code enforcement, and building inspection now wear cameras. Some municipalities equip fire marshalls with them.
Body camera use in emergency medical services has taken hold in some countries. EMTs are wearing them in Australia and the U.K., in response to frequent attacks on paramedics. In South Korea, cameras allow paramedics to receive guidance from physicians en route to the hospital.
So what are some of the upsides and downsides of body cameras you may have to consider in your own career?
Body Camera Pros
The main arguments in favor of cameras are transparency and accountability. As professionals in direct contact with the public, EMS workers tend to value trust and openness. By making your work visible, you communicate these traits to the public. In addition, supervisors can keep watch on employees — which generates mixed feelings, depending on which side of the camera you’re on.
In addition to increasing accountability, body cameras can potentially improve service quality, providing a direct visual and audio record of a patient encounter. Case critiques and run reviews can be much more effective and educational when the actions of those on scene can simply be replayed. In other words, when you do well, your supervisors will know. And, when you need to work on things, you can learn from real-world experiences.
Others can learn from your experience, too. Trainers may use footage of excellent work in training new recruits.
Cameras also protect safety at the scene of a call. The thinking goes that, when patients or citizens notice the body camera, they are less likely to act aggressively. If an altercation should take place, you can use video footage in your defense. Body cameras could also protect you against claims of misconduct or negligence. The Southern Medical Association says, “Body cameras can be and have been beneficial to medical staff and hospitals and other medical facilities in preventing or resolving litigation brought by patients, improving professional (and patients’) behavior, reducing the number of confrontational situations, improving transparency, identifying and correcting integral problems within a facility or practice, and decreasing violence.”
Body Camera Cons
Institutions considering body cameras must first budget for them. Costs add up, including the cameras themselves, data-storage costs, and the labor to view and log footage. They must also account for the time and expense of training employees who will wear the cameras.
As with much new technology, privacy is among the top concerns. HIPAA does not prohibit recording of a patient encounter. However, body camera recordings would likely contain protected health information (PHI) that must be safeguarded under the HIPAA security rule. Users need to strictly control who can access the footage and how to store it securely.
Every state has laws against “invasion of privacy.” In most cases, you will need to inform that patient that you’re recording your interactions, and you may be prohibited from doing so in a private home. Institutions wishing to use body cameras will need to consider all of the laws and regulations particular to their location and situation.