New telemedicine equipment connects South Plains ambulances to hospitals

Published: Oct. 30, 2017 at 9:53 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 31, 2017 at 10:55 AM CDT
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Next Gen 911 (Source: Sharon Rose, Project Manager)
Next Gen 911 (Source: Sharon Rose, Project Manager)
Next Gen 911 Telemedicine (Source: Sharon Rose, Project Manager)
Next Gen 911 Telemedicine (Source: Sharon Rose, Project Manager)

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - The Next Gen 911 Telemedicine Project has placed new telecommunication equipment in five South Plains county ambulances to allow better communication between hospitals and first responders.

The Office of Rural Health at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center was contacted by Texas' Commission on State Emergency Communications after House Bill 479 provided funding for telemedicine in rural areas.

Sharon Rose, NG 9-1-1 Telemedicine Project Manager, said lawmakers were also concerned with the type of accidents the West Texas area sees and the distance to travel to get specialized treatment.

"Sometimes it takes anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes to get to where they need to go," Rose said. "They felt because of the great distances to travel, maybe they need to make some funding available to see if we could improve quality of care as well as patient outcomes by placing telemedicine equipment in ambulances so they could connect to hospitals sooner."

TTUHSC has been given $1 million to execute the project for at least four years, although it's slated to go until 2021. The teleconferencing technology in Muleshoe, Seminole, Andrews, Lamesa and Snyder ambulances provides teleconferencing abilities from those vehicles to doctors in local county hospitals and University Medical Center.

"The doctor in the emergency room can actually put his eyes on that patient, to zoom in/zoom out, look at the patient, look at the injuries, look at his current vital signs," Rose said. "He can control all that on the emergency room side and the EMS provider can continue taking care of the patient but the physician can see what he needs to see."

This is in hopes of having a treatment plan in place when the patient gets to the hospital, rather than having to wait in the emergency room.

"For instance, if it's a trauma patient that's going to have to go to surgery, instead of stopping in the emergency room for 30 minutes to an hour, hopefully by the time the patient gets there, that surgery crew is ready so they go straight to the OR."

Another major objective of the pilot program is to test connectivity of the technology in the rural areas. TTUHSC is partnering with swyMed to provide the telemedicine technology, including a specialized backpack.

"It is really a communications hub and it's got the same types of modems as in police cars, fire trucks and some ambulances," swyMed Chief Operating Officer Jeff Urdan said. "We have a couple of those modems going out to different carriers and then the software layer on top that stitches those carriers together as they are one. From the perspective of the computer or the tablet, which is what we use in the ambulance, there's one network which is provided by that software layer but it uses both AT&T and Verizon's underlying networks."

Urdan said swyMed was awarded the partnership after TTUHSC observed a testing in San Angelo. He said there are benefits in this telemedicine for all involved.

"The belief of the people on the ground is there are enough situations where the EMS calls the air ambulance and ships the patient to UMC when they didn't need to go there or they took them to the local hospital because that's the appropriate standard procedure," Urdan said. "But, the truth is when they get to the local hospital the folks there say, 'You know, this guy, we can't handle him. 'We've go to send him out.'" Instead of the patient being transported once to the right place to get the right care, they're transported twice. It takes twice as long, sometimes more."

Rose said this technology will allow better decision making on the right care, which sometimes is at the local county hospital.

"If they feel that hospital can take care of them, then they will keep them in their communities where the support systems are and it will benefit their county hospital as well."

Rose plans to gather data from the participating parties every month to provide to the State, which will determine to fund the program after the trial period.

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