Information in the Go-bag

This post was originally written for the third blog post assignment of the class INFO281, Fall 2016.  It was revised and updated May 2017.

This week’s guest speaker from the National Library of Medicine’s Disaster Health division highlighted the need for information in one’s go-bag, and specifically having a “digital go-bag” on a mobile device where one can store disaster health apps for easy access.  This got me thinking about the place of information in a go-bag for more routine EMS operations than a large-scale disaster, and so I thought for this unit’s post I would go through my personal go-bag (that I use when I am not working with an agency that has their own equipment) with the aim of

1. seeing how information fits in, and
2. identifying possible ways to further incorporate information into my go-bag.


My go-bag is this Diapetic bag I won in a raffle.  Not much to see from the outside.


This is what it looks like when it’s opened.  The top part has pockets on it.  The back pocket can be one or two pockets; it’s divided with velcro.  I use the back pocket for storing gauze pads and my penlight (which is clipped to the edge of the pocket).  There’s also a half-width pocket in the front where I keep my shears and tape.  The front pocket is a bit small, but the back pocket is big enough that it could be used to store patient education materials.  This wouldn’t be for patients who are transported and admitted to the hospital, because they a. are usually in too bad condition to be particularly interested in information and b. usually get patient ed materials from the hospital with their discharge papers.  But having this type of information on hand would be practical and useful for calls that turn out to not be an emergency or for refusals of care or transport.  In the former case, the information would include a short explanation of when people should and shouldn’t call EMS and possibly some information about common conditions that can wait until the patient can see their primary care provider for treatment.  The information for refusals would naturally be focused on the risks of not seeking treatment and could be a useful tie-in to the overall refusal documentation process.

go3Here’s the main compartment.  It’s where all the bulky stuff lives: medication bag, tool bag, thermometer, more gauze pads, etc. etc.  You can juuust barely see some information peeking out.  More on that momentarily.


View of the inside of the medication bag.  This is also where I keep the petroleum jelly because hey, why not.  And there’s some more gauze, of course, in the form of a rolled bandage.  The main information-type stuff going on in here is the drug information included on the bottles.  This is a useful thing to have, obviously, but the format is not quite ideal.  It’s wrapped around the bottle, so you have to keep turning it, and often there’s not enough room so you have to peel it off to read the back, and all of it’s in teeny-tiny font.  So better than nothing but not ideal.  And if something happens to the bottle and you have to transfer the meds to an unmarked bottle, you no longer have the drug info.  Now some EMS field guides/reference books have drug information also, but in that case you have to flip through to find the information and it’s not immediately to hand.  So a more ideal information solution for managing the drug information would be more like a mini-field guide, or even just loose information cards (on 3×5 index cards or some such), with the information laid out for each drug.  The main issue with a print solution like this would be keeping the information up to date, as drug information is always changing as new research and new understanding of the drug come to light.  So for this application, a mobile app that could be updated as new information becomes available would be very practical, although it is of course important to keep in mind the downfalls associated with relying on digital devices for information (e.g. battery/power limitations, durability, etc.)


And here’s the tool bag, where the sphygmomanometer and stethoscope live alongside EVEN MORE gauze pads and rolled bandage.  We are starting to get close to that information tucked away in the corner.


And there it is!  Along with some more gauze, naturally.  This is my EMS field guide, Basic Life Support edition (as I am an EMT-Basic).  It’s open to the page I was looking at last, which is the page about the laryngeal mask airway.  I usually just chuck it back in there when I’m done with it without straightening it back to the title page.


Here is what it looks like when it’s straightened back to the title page.  Overall it has seen some better days but it has served me well.  It’s divided into the following sections: Airway, Resuscitation, Medical, Pediatrics, Neuro, Poisons, Trauma, Medications, Drugs, Abbrevs (abbreviations), Spelling, Spanish, Conversions, and Notes.  The sections have tabs for easy access, but only five tabs are visible at a time.  Reference guides and field guides like this one have the same issue as mentioned with the drug information, namely that the information included in the book is static and not updated as new information becomes available.  So a digital device does have the advantage over something like this of being able to access the latest information, but a book like this has the advantage of being available even when digital devices are not.


Here is a photo of the field guide next to my cell phone, which is a Galaxy S4 mini.  They are about the same size; the field guide is a little bigger, but would likely be almost the exact same size as a standard smartphone.  They each have their own advantages and disadvantages, and because they are about the same size, one cannot be said to be more practical than the other on that front.  So here are some comparisons and contrasts, including the ones already mentioned and others:

Smartphone Field guide
Requires battery/power No power required
May need internet connection No internet required
Use may not be permitted by agency protocols Less likely to be forbidden by protocols
May not survive being immersed in water Will probably survive being immersed in water if printed on waterproof paper
Access to the latest information Information is static
Looking at a smartphone may not inspire confidence in patients Looking at a reference guide may not inspire confidence in patients

Information in the go-bag: Conclusion

Realistically, the use of reference materials, be they print or digital, in the field is more likely in theoretical scenarios than on an actual scene; it is critical for first responders and paramedics to know what they are doing without bumbling through it as if they were trying to assemble an Ikea product. That said, there are several areas where I can improve my go-bag by incorporating information.  The big one is getting my “digital go-bag” set up on my smartphone, but even when I have that finished, I will keep my trusty field guide in my go-bag in case I want to look something up and don’t have access to digital materials.  To counter the disadvantage of static information in the field guide, I will check it periodically to see if there are newer editions and make sure the information in it is up to date with the latest information.  I will also explore information solutions for managing drug information, as this is an area in which accurate, up to date, and easily accessible information is critical to avoid complications and achieve the best therapeutic outcome.  The idea of carrying patient education materials is an interesting one, with potential for optimizing usage of the 911 system, but it requires further investigation and background research first.  However, the other areas are things that I can begin implementing immediately so as to better incorporate information in my go-bag.


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