3-D visor displays: A fit for EMS?

Technology has shaped much of our evolution, just as it has for the rest of society

EMS has come a long way since the 1970s, when ambulances morphed from converted hearses to big, boxy trucks.

It was a time when ambulance attendants became EMS providers, changing out of white smocks and into station uniforms and jumpsuits.

Over time, scope of practice expanded (and contracted), and the ways in which EMS was implemented diversified.

Through all of this change, was one constant — technology has shaped much of our evolution, just as it has for the rest of society.

An article on MSNBC this month caught my eye; how a 3-D visor display is being tested for use in space surgery.

As the article outlines, such a do-it-yourself space device could be vital to astronauts stuck on a space station who "must treat illnesses or do surgery with their own hands, but not necessarily without some virtual help." 

The 3-D display allows the wearer to see virtual "cue cards" that guides his or her hands to points on a patient's body that match the points on a virtual version of the patient, according to the article.

While it is being tested by the European Space Agency, it seems there's a chance we could some day see something like this in EMS.

"Once it reaches maturity, the system might also be used as part of a telemedicine system to provide remote medical assistance via satellite," Arnaud Runge, a biomedical engineer overseeing the project for the European Space Agency, told MSNBC. "It could be deployed as a self-sufficient tool for emergency responders as well."

It all highlights some interesting points when it comes to EMS and technology. Today's patient monitoring equipment is a far cry from their predecessors in terms of shape, weight and functionality.

We now routinely measure the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide going in and out of the body, and determine precise amounts of glucose in the blood stream.

Some systems are testing blood for the initial markers of myocardial infarction. More and more systems rely on electronic patient care reports being done not only on portable laptops, but on tablets and smart phones.

We still communicate our voices and data through a network of radio frequencies, but we use not only radios, but mobile phones and wi-fi platforms as well.

Given what the past has shown in evolutionary progress, what does the future hold? My guess is, "it depends". If paramedics evolve into a more community-oriented provider, technology for portability will need to expand.

Why not a portable lab, or X-ray machine? I can envision an assistant "robot" that can perform some of the initial tasks, and records data through voice input.

Support technology might expand as well — how about a heating/cooling unit that rapidly moves between the two temperatures, or an expansive transmission technology that reliably broadcasts high-fidelity video, images and audio?

As the growth in technology continues, it may make currently "advanced" procedures more available to basic level providers. It happened with external defibrillation; there's no reason to believe that future life-saving medications could be delivered safely through injectors that require little training to perform.

Even in the absence of the crystal ball, I'd love to see a better backboard that safely, comfortably and easily protects the patient when it's really needed.

Better yet, better riding ambulances with better protection for its occupants would be nice. What about cots that can safely lift patients, yet are still light enough to maneuver easily?

These are just a few items on my wish list — what about yours? What would you like to see in future technology developments in our industry?

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 writer, author of "EMT Exam for Dummies," has presented at conferences nationwide and continues to provide patient care at an EMS service in Northern California. Art is a member of the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com.

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