Hennepin EMS sets standard with ambulance patient weighing system

Emergency medical service professionals need to know a patient’s weight before they can properly administer medication. However, up until recently, there has not been an easy way to learn that information.

Now, Hennepin EMS will become the first ambulance service in the country to equip its entire fleet with a weighing system, according to Charlie Sloan, the deputy chief of operations.

Hospital beds have had scales built in for decades, but ambulances were never equipped with that technology. Then, in 2022, Sloan said the Minnesota-based company Hinckley Medical asked Hennepin EMS to help test a new technology called OneWeight.

The system is integrated into the ambulance’s stretchers using a series of plates connected underneath the mattress pad. Once a patient is on the stretcher, the paramedic or EMT must press one button, and within seconds, they will know the patient’s weight.

So far, six of the department’s 39 ambulances have been equipped with the product. The remaining ambulances will be outfitted over the next year. Before they had access to the weighing systems, staff members did not have a good way to determine a patient's weight until they arrived at the hospital.

"In the instance of where a patient is unconscious, they can't obviously tell you what their weight is, and so you will be forced to guess," Sloan said.

The guessing game could be dangerous, he explained, because medication doses can differ based on fractions of a pound or kilogram. Proper dosages are especially critical for children, who are not as easily able to absorb extra medication. 

"If you give (patients) too little (medication), it's not really going to do anything for them. It might take the edge off, but we really want to get to that therapeutic level. If you give them too much (medication), then we can see some adverse effects from that, such as unconsciousness or they could stop breathing," Sloan said.

He cited a study, which was published in Prehospital Emergency Care, showing that more than 50 percent of EMS medical errors are due to incorrect weight estimation and cognitive errors.

Hennepin EMS professionals respond to approximately 96,000 EMS calls for service annually, and Sloan said they could potentially dose medication during each call.