First Responders Partner with Families, Physicians on Practical Health IT Solutions

When it comes to the use of cutting edge technology in healthcare, examples are usually found in operating rooms or spaces designated for patient care. Telehealth technologies are helping to change that. And while telehealth itself isn’t exactly new, some of its applications are.

A pilot program in Houston gives emergency first responders a telemedicine platform—a Panasonic G1 tablet computer—which allows them to facilitate a physician consultation before transporting a patient to the hospital. As part of Project ETHAN (Emergency TeleHealth And Navigation), which is overseen by a professor from Baylor University, a call center is staffed by physicians on week days and weekends.

With an eye toward reducing costly emergency room visits and hefty emergency transportation costs, first responders can conduct a video chat between a physician and the patient who needed emergency service, according to an article in mHealth Intelligence. In addition to offering medical advice, physicians can offer to look up directions to the nearest clinics, make appointments, and call a cab if needed.

The program was launched in December 2014 after a three-month pilot, and shows promising results, according to investigators. At the time of publication, the ETHAN system had been activated 6,300 times. So far, approximately 30 percent of users visited a primary care physician instead of an ER. The savings can be significant to the patient. An average ambulance ride is $800, while an emergency department visit can cost up to $1,200. Compare that to a cab and an office visit, and the savings is apparent.

Health IT for Special Needs

A new program started by the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office is building a database of information about local individuals with special needs, such as those developmental disabilities or who are on the autism spectrum. That information can be submitted, voluntarily, by parents and legal guardians so that if their loved one is in emergency situation, dispatchers and responding officials can take a better-educated approach to an emergency, according to the Hunterdon County Democrat.

Relevant information that can be submitted—and which would be considered helpful by responders—can include a person’s “dislikes, fears, whether the person is verbal or non-verbal, violent tendencies, or any other information that would be helpful to the first responders,” according to a news release. “Other information, such as nearby terrain hazards, can assist in the event someone wanders away from home,” according to the paper.

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