Utilizing the OODA Loop in Emergency Medical Situations

Matthew Buhrle
4 min readMay 15, 2020

The following blog will be how to utilize the OODA loop in emergency health care situations such as an athlete that has been injured on the field or any other medical emergency scenario.

Photo from article “Tale of the athletic tape”

Being an Athletic Training student that also has a program director who is a paramedic emergency scenario training is something I do quite often during the school year. Luckily I’ve only been apart of a real emergency scenario during a sporting event once. All the scenario training really did prepare me for the real thing as equipment removal, spinal motion restriction, and transportation of the athlete all went smoothly. However, I was with my preceptor at the time so I wasn’t the one making the decisions anyways.

When first learning emergency scenario training from my program director we were taught about the primary and secondary survey. While looking up what topic my blog should be over I noticed that the OODA loop fits perfectly into it as it is all about observing a scene and deciding on what actions to take.

The OODA loop

The OODA loop is a cycle that was created in the mid 20th century by United States Air Force Colonel & Strategists John Boyd. It is defined as “a four-step approach to decision making that focuses on filtering available information, putting it in context and quickly making the most appropriate decision while also understanding that changes can be made as more data becomes available” (1).

How the OODA Loop can be utilized in emergency situations

The observe, orient, and act model of the OODA loop can be incorporated into to any part of the primary/ secondary survey to make quick and effective decisions in a timely manner.


The observe portion of the OODA loop is all about taking in as much information as possible to determine the correct course of action. This will mainly be used at the beginning of the primary survey. How did the accident/ injury happen? Is the scene safe to approach? Were there witnesses to what happened? What’s the patients current condition? Are they conscious? Are they breathing? Are there any life threatening conditions that are obviously observable?


The orient portion consists of utilizing the information gathered in the observe phase to give yourself options to make a decision. If the patient needs to be re-positioned how will you move them? Do you need to stop bleeding? if so how? If the patient needs splinted what type of splint are you using?


Now it’s time to take the options from the orient phase and determine which one to use. This will be after the primary & secondary survey is done and the suspected injury has been determined (hopefully). Now is the time to determine exactly what the course of action will be.


Now it’s time to take your decision and put it into action. For example if a football is done on the field and they have mid line cervical spine tenderness then it’s time to enact the emergency action plan. Stabilize the C-spine, remove equipment place in a c-collar, and get them on a combiboard. All while vitals and level of consciousness are being checked regularly. If there isn’t enough personnel for these actions to take place then you’ll have to maintain C-spine stabilization while waiting for EMS to arrive.

The OODA Loop is a quick and effective method to determine what course of action should be taken in many different scenarios. Utilizing this tool in emergency healthcare situations can aid health care professionals in giving their patients the highest standard of care possible.


(1) McKay, K. (2020, March 12). OODA Loop: A Comprehensive Guide. Retrieved from https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/ooda-loop/

(2) Rouse, M. (2019, June 28). What is OODA loop? — Definition from WhatIs.com. Retrieved from https://searchcio.techtarget.com/definition/OODA-loop

(3) Taylor Pearson. (2019, July 30). The OODA Loop: How to Turn Uncertainty into Opportunity. Retrieved from https://taylorpearson.me/ooda-loop/