The sight and sound of ambulances racing through town are common today. But it wasn't always that way.
In fact, emergency medical care delivered on the scene of an accident or in a home is still a relatively new practice when compared to other major health care innovations like hospitals, which have been around for hundreds of years. It wasn't until about fifty years ago that modern-day emergency medical services began to take root.
"The big change was in the 1960s and 1970s, during the time of the Vietnam War," says Natalie Simpson, an associate professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo who studies the history of EMS. "That was a turning point in emergency medicine [because] we had a lot of hard data from the war about the significance of immediate treatment of trauma."
The data came from a 1966 report from the National Academy of Sciences entitled, "Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society." The report found that both the general public and government were "insensitive to the magnitude of the problem of accidental death and injury." It also stated that advances in emergency medicine on the battlefield could be applied to car crashes and other accidents back at home in America to great effect.
"The military always had the idea of a medic--someone who's not a doctor who's running around in the field trying to help people immediately," Simpson notes. "The idea that if you start an IV or try to keep blood pressure from dropping too low, stabilize any broken bones...