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EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

Technology: Friend or foe?

By Arthur Hsieh

Editor's note: This story is in response to a recent article, "Comcast sued over response to Fla. EMS call."The family of a Fla. grandmother who died waiting for medics to arrive at her home filed a lawsuit against Comcast for being unable to provide dispatchers with the woman's address. Is technology here to blame? Tell us in the member comments below.

In the age of information sharing, technology is king. Since the late 1970s, we have seen the revolution of personal computers, the internet, an online economy, social networking and streaming media.

Most of us probably don't remember the days of typewriters, carbon paper, fax machines and the U.S. Postal Service. (Okay, I might be kidding a bit about the last two, but think about it — where is most of your "junk mail" coming from these days?)

One technology that seems constant is the landline telephone. You know, the one with a wire attached to it. Even though the Center for Disease Control estimates that nearly 20 percent of U.S. citizens do not have a landline telephone in their home, most of us still have access to one somewhere, usually at work.

Even here, the technology is changing. Remember "Ma Bell"? That era is gone. Only telephone companies providing telephone service? No more — and it hasn't been that way for some time now.

In the digital age, cable companies can provide Voice Over IP (VOIP) services through their networks, and telephone companies provide streamlining media over their telephone lines. In many ways, our ability to easily access information and data today is light years ahead, even in rural areas of the country.

Gaps have appeared though. It remains to be seen whether human error was involved in this incident, or whether the system could not retrieve the address information in a timely manner. Even though the patient did not dial 911 directly, it should matter little in terms of obtaining the correct information and routing it appropriately.

Additionally, mobile phone services routinely STILL do not have automated routing of 911 calls to the closest PSAP.

In California, wireless 911 calls still go to two call centers, both run by the Highway Patrol. Eight million calls come into the CHP system annually, with 37 percent unanswered. This seems unreasonable, in a society that expects its 911 calls to be answered promptly.

In other columns we have talked about EMS personnel carelessly using technology, sometimes to their detriment. In this case, we must press for better controls and integration of the technology to minimize tragedies such as this one.

About the author

EMS1 Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. 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 textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at an EMS service in Northern California. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com.
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