Ambulances will soon be getting some major technological upgrades effectively turning them into “super ambulances.” These technologically enhanced ambulances will allow paramedics to share patient data, video feeds and other information in real time with the remote hospital – a revolution in emergency care. This is thanks to Roger Lee Heath, an inventor and entrepreneur with over a dozen patents to his name; his most recent being the LifeBot. It’s a system installed in ambulances to help paramedics and EMTs better communicate with the hospitals on the go – when treatment can be at its most critical stages. Paramedics can get expert instructions from doctors remotely to help keep patients stable and also the hospital is better prepared for the patient’s arrival when using the LifeBot system. Below you can see a video of the system in action. When combined with other Teletriage systems, this system helps create the “Super Ambulances” that EMTs and other first responders have been dreaming of.The platform is the Hewlett-Packard Slate tablet that weighs in at just 1.5 pounds. It features a 3 MP outward facing camera and a VGA inward facing webcam working together to capture both the patient and operator in field use, recording video and capturing still images.
Beyond the immediate capabilities of the device itself though, it is connected to the DREAMS(tm) telemedicine system. DREAMS was developed by the U.S Army Materiel Command for emergency and disaster systems deployments. The system allows for the sending and receiving of live patient physiological data, play-by-play screen color drawing with annotation, isolated video zoom to hi-res imaging, complete patient medical record ePCR charting systems, and multiple camera remote controls.
Aside from the tablet, the ambulance will come equipped with three additional cameras, all remote-controlled from the hospital. This allows the paramedic to focus on the patient while the doctor can take a look at any area they feel is important. The paramedic will also wear a head-mounted camera to transmit not only their work on the patient in the ambulance, but anything going on outside the ambulance before transport, like during a multiple car accident.
LifeBot also includes a barcode scanner to read a patient’s driver’s license. This will more quickly bring up medical information that normally has to be retrieved by radio or wait until the ambulance arrives at the hospital. The ability to be aware of potential hazards that an unconscious patient cannot alert them of is crucial here. If a patient has a pre-existing condition or an allergy to medication that might be used to stabilize them during their trip to the hospital, this will be brought to the attention of the ambulance crew, allowing for the best and most accurate care.
A price cannot be placed on a person’s life, but it certainly can be placed on a LifeBot. It will cost $50,000 to add the entire system to one ambulance. This system is a great investment since it not only saves lives, but also saves money. With the cost of placing a fully-trained doctor in every ambulance being prohibitive, having the watchful eye and advice of the doctor from the hospital will ensure that this system pays for itself relatively quickly. According to Heath, Teletriage can reduce ambulance transport volume by 20 – 60 percent, which saves as much as $2,000 per unnecessary transport.
One of the early target markets for the LifeBot is actually in places with lower technology in general: rural areas. These areas are most in need of this service since ambulance rides there can often be as long as an hour to the closest medical facility. If a paramedic is unfamiliar with a critical procedure that is required to save a patient’s life, a remote doctor can walk them through the entire process. The full coverage inside of the ambulance helps the doctor keep eyes and ears on every aspect of the process almost as if they were there themselves.
LifeBot offers many advantages, but what are the concerns? Medical records will always remain confidential, but should patients need to give consent to have their image and likeness recorded in this manner? Most people won’t have a problem with a system designed to save their lives, but will conscious patients have to give their permission before the system is turned on? If so, what would be the procedure for unconscious patients? As systems like these become standard in every ambulance, there could be a selection that we choose on our driver’s license, similar to the choice of being an organ donor. In the meantime though, how do we handle it all?
All in all, what we are looking at here is a substantial advancement in remote medical treatment. If implemented more widely, it should reduce the amount of patients that don’t survive the ambulance ride to hospital where they can get full medical treatment. The system is already in place in select areas within Arizona, Texas, and Florida. Plus with the relatively low cost compared to all of the benefits that the system can provide I don’t think it will be very long until this system becomes standard for hospitals all around the country.
[image credit: LifeBot]
[video credit: ABC News]