Smartphones offer valuable, versatile tool

Looking for online EMS tools? There's an app for that

By Greg Friese

With a few taps I was able to report to my partner the forecast for our 12 hour shift, the score of the previous night's game, and road construction alerts in our service area. I also read him a protocol update that our medical director had emailed two minutes ago. Smartphones, like a Blackberry, used to be the domain of business people and occasionally upper EMS management.

With lower prices, more choices, and faster networks, more and more EMS field professionals are carrying smartphones on the job and using them for more than text messaging, email, and browsing sports scores.

A smartphone is a handheld computer that also has wireless phone capabilities. The most familiar smartphones are the iPhone and the Blackberry. The Google Android operating system, available in many handheld models, is a growing player in the smartphone market. Windows mobile and Palm have a smaller presence in the market.

A smartphone is typically Web-enabled through a 3G or Wi-Fi network or both. This allows users to send and receive email, browse websites, and use applications that are populated with online data. More and more websites also have a mobile version that strips out extraneous content and advertising for faster loading. Compare from a laptop computer with from a smartphone to see the difference.

Apps are software applications that raise the capabilities of smartphones to a powerful computing device. There are tens of thousands of iPhone apps, a rapidly growing library of Android apps, and a well established collection of Blackberry apps. Apps do things like access reference information about medical conditions or treatment protocols, or perform calculations like drug doses when the user selects the drug and patient parameters.

Apps are also available that translate simple phrases during patient assessment. Apps can be used to access and read online content without a web browser. For example, I use the Weather Channel app to quickly check up-to-date local conditions.

Other web-enabled handheld devices, like the iPad and iPod touch, have many of the features of a smartphone without the wireless calling capability. I use a Blackberry and an iPod Touch. The web browsing through a Wi-Fi network on the iPod Touch is far superior to browsing the internet on a Blackberry 3G network. The iPod Touch also gives me access to more apps through the iTunes store.

There are many apps already available for EMS students and professionals. You can find apps for reading EKGs, calculating drug dosages, and storing paramedic reference material. A service could have its own app programmed for time and event tracking that would synchronize with the ePCR software. An app could be created for starting a patient care report at the patient's side before the paramedic can sit at a mobile data terminal or desktop computer to finish the ePCR. Apps could be designed to practice patient assessment in interactive scenarios. With the increasing capabilities of smartphones the only real limitation is the imagination of the app programmer.

Learn more about smartphones and their applications for EMS through these resources: App Reviews Podcast about Smartphone Technology

How are you using smartphones and apps for response, assessment, care, training, and other operations? What features are you seeking in a smartphone or app?

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