Travelling consultant

Victims of accidents and sudden illness could be given a better chance of survival, with a communications system linking hospitals to emergency call centre workers and paramedics.

The technology, developed by Qinetiq and Australian company HAS Solutions, will allow personal information and treatment records for ambulance patients to be viewed and updated by medical staff at the scene of an emergency, before passing this data to the patient’s destination hospital, allowing staff to prepare for their arrival.

Prototype trial

A prototype system is being tested by the Surrey Ambulance Service which relies on a standard mobile telephone communications link, though research staff said a GPRS or satellite communications link is likely to be added soon.

After a 999 call is received at ambulance headquarters, information concerning the patient’s location, age and cause of the illness or accident is recorded on a computer by the telephone operator, as well as details of first aid treatment given.

The information is then sent to the ambulance heading to the scene. Each vehicle contains a computerised docking port with a handheld tablet computer that allows this data to be downloaded and read by emergency staff before they reach the patient.

Paramedics can also use the handheld’s voice recognition software to record each type and stage of treatment as it is given. Once back in its port, the information is downloaded and sent back to ambulance head-quarters.

From there, data is sent on to the hospital so that emergency staff can prepare for his or her arrival.

In unusual or complex injury cases, the system lets pictures of an accident be captured and relayed to A&E staff over the link.

‘The system allows doctors and surgeons to be prepared,’ said Keith Smith, channel manager for healthcare at Qinetiq. ‘Ambulance staff, headquarters and A&E medics can coordinate information to make sure it is up to date.

Preparation and early treatment can prove vital for road accident and heart attack victims.’

Clinical support

The system also allows consultants and senior doctors to provide clinical support and guidance to paramedics if problems arise.

Patients suffering a heart attack would benefit as the system allows doctors to decide whether certain clot-breaking drugs should be administered in the early stages of treatment.

These drugs can make a significant difference to patients, but at present the only way to judge whether a person requires them is through interpreting an electro-cardiogram (ECG) recording of the heart. If the drugs are given unnecessarily there can be serious complications.

However, the system allows this data to be sent to a hospital for interpretation by cardiologists, who can then pass their advice back to ambulance staff.

‘In remote areas this function could be vital to the outcome of a case,’ said Smith. ‘It would also be very useful on cruise ships and aircraft, or other areas where there is likely to be a delay in reaching a hospital.’

He added that the system could be tailored for use by mental health and social workers to make sure centralised files were kept up to date.

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