Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Unwiring the Ambulance

WiFiPlanet reports Next time the paramedic comes rushing in, don't be surprised to see a medical bag under one arm and a laptop under the other. Driven by the need for speed coupled with new regulatory pressure, ambulance-based Wi-Fi could be a thing of the not-too-distant future.

A palm unit would probably be more efficient.
Ambulance service provider American Medical Response (AMR) recently unveiled a technologically advanced vehicle that includes, among other features, an In Motion Technology system that pairs a cellular Internet backhaul connection with the Wi-Fi-driven ability to take information beyond the vehicle.

With their PDAs and laptops hooked up to home base via Wi-Fi, paramedics "can take those devices and go outside of the vehicle," says In Motion CTO Larry LeBlanc. "When they arrive on the site, they can take a laptop to the patient and fill in the care information that they are giving."
This sounds more efficient to me, especially if the ER is prepared to receive the electronic information. I doubt that many others would want it, but I would also like them to write it to a floppy and give it to me when they leave me in the E.R.
The alternative? Paper records, sometimes handwritten, that often must be transcribed either back in the ambulance or at the hospital. This has raised issues both in terms of efficiency and regulatory compliance, under government rulings such as HIPAA that set strict rules on the timeliness, accuracy and privacy of medical records.

Patient information must be readily available for audit, and the Wi-Fi connection can help make that happen, LeBlanc says. "Being able to collect that info in digital format from the start makes the process that much more efficient." The Wi-Fi-to-gateway solution also helps resolve security concerns that are pervasive in the medical community these days.

"Certainly, people are aware of the issue, and one of the things they like about this solution is that our mobile gateway is also an application server with an embedded hard drive," LeBlanc explains. "That means that instead of storing those data on a laptop that can be lost or stolen, the data can instantly be transferred to the gateway, which remains inside the vehicle, literally bolted down. It's a much more secure solution than just having all those records on portable devices."

While the idea of more and faster information is generally an attractive one, analysts note that a lot of the business rationale here seems to come from the back-end. That is, the Wi-Fi solution helps with efficiency and with compliance, but does it help the first responders?

"How much additional workload is it for the people working in these services? Is this simplifying their lives, or it is just another thing for them to do while they ought to be doing other things?" asks Eddie Hold, Vice President and Research Director of Wireless Service at the research firm Current Analysis.
I would think it would be easier to key the info in rather than trying to write in a moving ambulance.
If anything, LeBlanc says, Wi-Fi will make emergency personnel more productive, enhancing their ability to record information without pulling them away from other duties.

At the same time, the cellular gateway will be driving greater operational efficiency on the front end. Ambulance operators "want to give their drivers more accurate information, to give them routing capabilities in their vehicles," LeBlanc says. In the latest AMR vehicle, the dispatcher in the central office can push a button and give all the information about where to pick up a patient

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