Emergency medical services, also known as ambulance services or paramedic services (abbreviated to the initial-ism EMS, EMAS, EMARS or SAMU in some countries), are a type of emergency service dedicated to providing out-of-hospital acute medical care, transport to definitive care, and other medical transport to patients with illnesses and injuries which prevent the patient from transporting themselves. Emergency medical services may also be locally known as a paramedic service, a first aid squad, FAST squad, emergency squad, rescue squad, ambulance squad, ambulance service, ambulance corps, or life squad.
The goal of most emergency medical services is to either provide treatment to those in need of urgent medical care, with the goal of satisfactorily treating the presenting conditions, or arranging for timely removal of the patient to the next point of definitive care. This is most likely an emergency department at a hospital. The term emergency medical service evolved to reflect a change from a simple system of ambulances providing only transport, to a system in which preliminary medical care is given on scene and during transport. In some developing regions, the term is not used, or may be used inaccurately, since the service in question does not provide treatment to the patients, but only the provision of transport to the point of care.
In most places in the world, the EMS is summoned by members of the public (or other emergency services, businesses, or authorities) via an emergency telephone number which puts them in contact with a control facility, which will then dispatch a suitable resource to deal with the situation.
In some parts of the world, the emergency medical service also encompasses the role of moving patients from one medical facility to an alternative one; usually to facilitate the provision of a higher level or more specialized field of care but also to transfer patients from a specialized facility to a local hospital or nursing home when they no longer require the services of that specialized hospital, such as following successful cardiac catheterization due to a heart attack. In such services, the EMS is not summoned by members of the public but by clinical professionals (e.g. physicians or nurses) in the referring facility. Specialized hospitals that provide higher levels of care may include services such as neonatal intensive care (NICU), paediatric intensive care (PICU), state regional burn centres, specialized care for spinal injury and/or neurosurgery, regional stroke centres, specialized cardiac care (Cardiac catheterization), and specialized/regional trauma care.
In some jurisdictions, EMS units may handle technical rescue operations such as extrication, water rescue, and search and rescue. Training and qualification levels for members and employees of emergency medical services vary widely throughout the world. In some systems, members may be present who are qualified only to drive ambulances, with no medical training. In contrast, most systems have personnel who retain at least basic first aid certifications, such as Basic Life Support (BLS). Additionally many EMS systems are staffed with Advanced Life Support (ALS) personnel, including paramedics, nurses, or, less commonly, physicians.