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How telemedicine can reduce, inform EMS transport decisions

Networked video technology is making it increasingly easy to connect patients at rural hospitals and incident scenes with specialist physicians


ORLANDO, Fla. — Telehealth, also known as telemedicine, is on the rise for treating a wide-variety of patient conditions. Pediatrician James Marcin, MD, MPH, University of California Davis, discussed uses for telemedicine by physicians and other health care providers at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2015.

Telemedicine use should always be driven by a clear clinical need or problem. There is less success when technology is applied as a 'wow effect' in search of a problem. Marcin believes success is more likely when telemedicine is identified as a solution to an existing problem.

Marcin showed several videos of neonates in respiratory or cardiac compromise at small, community hospitals. A pediatrician at Marcin's tertiary children's specialty hospital was able to view the patient, telemetry data for the infant, confer with the on-site care team and guide patient care. One of the top benefits of telemedicine Marcin described was avoiding unnecessary flight or ground transports of these neonates to the tertiary children's hospital.

Memorable quotes from telehealth session

"In 2014, there were 20 million telehealth encounters. In 2020 there are expected to be  150 million telehealth encounters."

"Telemedicine sounds cool but there are several examples of failure, because too often this is a push technology rather than a pull technology."

Key takeaways on telemedicine

Here are three key takeaways on telemedicine as an EMS technology:

1. Telemedicine has many potential uses for EMS

In the prehospital setting, telemedicine may be used for video-assisted triage and transport decisions. Telemedicine can connect a physician with a responder and the patient at the scene or in the ambulance.

2. Utility of telemedicine should be driven by need for additional expertise

Telemedicine gives immediate access to clinical expertise. For rural hospitals, a telemedicine consult can potentially improve interfacility patient transport decisions.

3. Telemedicine can be integrated into existing processes

Marcin described many applications for telemedicine and how it has been integrated into existing processes for assessing patients and making decisions about transporting patients to a tertiary care center. 

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