Choosing a Method of Patient Care Reporting for First Responders

If you’ve been in the EMS or fire industry since the days of paper-based patient care reporting (PCR), or your agency still relies on this traditional method, then you’ve probably encountered or participated in the debate of physical versus electronic PCR generation. Paper methods are often seen as simpler, and the barrier to entry for this method is low — there’s no technology to integrate or train on, and the components are inexpensive. Electronic methods cost more and require training, but offer more flexibility and features. At iPCR, we have created an electronic PCR (ePCR) option to help EMS and fire crews breeze through the “R” and focus on the “PC.”

With new technology advancements, the electronic patient care reporting category has split into two offerings: laptop-based software and tablet-based software. For the purpose of this content, we will focus on the iPad as the tablet of choice, as it is the hardware that runs iPCR. Below, you’ll find a helpful infographic highlighting the capabilities of the different PCR methods. Scroll past the infographic to read an overview of the content.

Cost Effective

Fitting all necessary equipment, upkeep, technology, supplies, and other resources into the budget is a difficult task for first responder crews, especially for publicly-operated and small-scale EMS and fire agencies. When it comes to patient care reporting, you need an affordable option. On the surface, paper seems like the way to go. The upfront costs are lower, but you may be surprised by how much time and effort you’ll expend to make up for the shortcomings. Laptops are not inexpensive by any means, but your crew will spend less time on reports and corrections. The happy medium? An iPad! You can purchase multiple iPads for the price of a typical laptop for EMS use, while still receiving the same benefits — and more!

User Friendly

It’s safe to say that despite the ubiquity of technology in today’s society, pen and paper wins the ease-of-use debate in most cases. No electric power needed, virtually no learning curve (minus a few years of early childhood education), and zero menus or settings to navigate. However, this lack of features is the precise reason that the user-friendly tables turn. A paper form can’t be edited once written on, the fields can’t be customized easily, and there is limited writing space.

Both laptops and iPads offer more flexibility in the type and amount of content you can include in PCRs. Overall, all three options are user-friendly in their own way, but we think the iPad wins out. The iPad touch screen and popularity of iOS means users can easily interact with the device, and many people already know how to use it all the way down to specific settings.

Simple Implementation

We can’t argue with how easy it is to implement paper-based patient care reporting. Paper, clipboards, pens, done. On the other end of the spectrum, common laptops used by first responders, like the Toughbook, are expensive and often must be ordered through a specific process. The iPad wins the happy-medium spot again — these devices are easy to order or even pick up in person at a local big box store. No special IT support is needed.


We need not spend much time on this feature — paper is clearly the lightest option of the three, but the iPad is significantly lighter than a rugged laptop. For the amount of features packed into an iPad, we’d say it’s the winner, even if it isn’t technically the lightest.


You can go ahead and write paper off for durability — it’s down to the iPad and laptop for this one. A rugged laptop built for first responders will no doubt be able to take a more intense beating than an iPad could handle, but it’s important to keep in mind why the laptop finds itself smashing, crashing, and bashing into things in the first place…

Easy Handling

…Because they are not easy to handle! A heavy, bulky laptop is simply not great for on-the-go processes. Using it on a flat surface while seated is one thing, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who says balancing a giant five- to eight-pound hunk of tech in one hand while typing up a full PCR with the other is easy. We’d say paper isn’t much better, especially when you’re dealing with multiple sheets destined for separate locations — and heaven forbid you misplace your writing utensil. The iPad is perfect for holding in one hand and PCR-ing with the other. There are no pens or keyboards needed, but you could always add a stylus or keyboard case if desired.

Legible Reports

First responders have a stressful job, to put it mildly. The last thing they should have to be concerned about is their handwriting. Pen-and-paper PCRs can’t hold up to the readability test — they are at the mercy of the report writer’s penmanship, which is often less than perfect due to the need to document administered care and medical data as quickly as possible. The laptop and iPad tie for legibility, because they both utilize typed text.

Secure Storage

Storing physical paper is by its very nature not a secure process. You could lock up the file cabinet, but we’re not talking about security merely in terms of preventing theft. If any natural disaster were to befall your agency’s office, paper PCRs would certainly be toast. Laptops and iPads have the capability of cloud storage, making them much safer options. We chose to run iPCR on the iPad and immediately store completed PCRs on our remote servers for ultimate document protection.

Convenient Updates

Updating paper documents is possible, but you might create a lot of waste in the process. If you’ve already printed a big stack of PCR forms for your crew, even a small change to the layout or an extra field means all those copies are inaccurate and destined for the trash. PCR forms on a laptop or iPad are easy to update, and doing so won’t lead to any wasted paper. Beyond updating the form itself, you can also update the software for ePCR. This is where the iPad shines. Instead of calling in the IT crew to perform time-consuming updates to your crews’ laptops, updating the iPad is as simple as installing the latest version of an app.

Multiple Uses

Paper-based PCR forms don’t have multiple uses. Once one has been filled out, it has served its purpose. On the other hand, laptops and iPads can run plenty of programs and apps, access the internet, and more. We personally feel that the iPad is the best option for a multi-use device, thanks to the App Store. With thousands of apps at your fingertips, from basic utilities like flashlights to advanced software like our own iPCR, it’s easy to see how the iPad could serve so many needs for EMS and fire agencies, from scheduling to navigation and beyond. You can even use the device to take pictures and record video or audio. Laptops can do a lot, but not with the ease of an iPad.

Request a Demo of the ePCR Software That Checks All the Boxes

Our goal is to help streamline patient care reporting so first responders can document crucial information without wasting crucial time. If you’ve enjoyed learning about the benefits of iPCR for the iPad, we invite you to contact us for a demo. We’re happy to provide more information and answer any questions you may have regarding the implementation of iPCR in your operation.