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The hidden dangers of technology

EMS1.com News

June 10, 2010


EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

The hidden dangers of technology

Editor's note: This article is in response to the story "911 system update deleted unknown number of addresses from Ga. system." An investigation found missing addresses from Dekalb County's emergency system. Read the full story and tell us what you think in the member comments.

By Art Hsieh, EMS1 Editorial Advisor

Today's article serves as a stark reminder that as great as technology can be, there can be the potential for major disaster when it doesn't work. In this case the potential became real, where a delay on EMS response to a critical pediatric patient may have been directly impacted by a data loss that apparently occurred during a computer system upgrade. It appears that the data loss may have been exceedingly small, but it may have been enough in this case.

Technology is a double edged sword. Our profession has advanced much through hardware and software development. Pulse oximetry, 12 lead EKG, and glucometry have helped provide us more information about the patient's condition. Trancutaneous pacing, AEDs, and mechanical CPR devices assist us in providing care. Computer based dispatching, satellite vehicle tracking, and web based hospital bed availability provides better data about our systems. However, we can become too dependent upon technology and replace our ability to critically interpret and manage the information.

At the heart of medicine, people take care of people. People manage systems. My concern would be that we become too reliant in our quest for hard data, and we lose sight of our goals of an accurate patient assessment and providing optimal care. Remember, it's "treat the patient, not the monitor."

I'm sure that QI managers involved in CAD design and maintenance are validating the integrity of their system's information in the aftermath of this event. Having backup systems in place and the training to use them correctly is also a must. We want to ensure that the technology we choose to use works for us, not against us.

About the author

EMS1 Editor in Chief Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. In the profession since 1982, Art has worked as a line medic and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a published textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at a rural hospital-based ALS system. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com.
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