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4 ways EMS can respond to shifting patient expectations

Don’t let your agency get behind – here are steps you can take to rethink your tech strategy

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Mobile and emerging technologies are changing EMS and will lead to better care for patients.


Sponsored by Philips

By Yoona Ha for EMS1 BrandFocus

Americans are becoming increasingly used to getting services and products on demand, from dinner to dog-walkers. A growing niche of on-demand services has started to include healthcare, with many hoping to turn to the latest tech devices in hopes of getting preventative or treatment services for a variety of medical problems.

Now EMS leaders are asking themselves how they, too, can meet consumer expectations through EMS technology.

But keeping up with innovation is easier said than done, and it’s important to understand the barriers that make adaptation to the constant pace of innovation in healthcare tech challenging.

So what are the biggest opportunities ahead for innovation in EMS technology? With consumer technology shifting the expectations of our patients, it’s more important than ever for agencies to consider taking a proactive rather than reactive stance toward leveraging the latest technologies. Here are four strategies your agency can adopt to avoid falling behind.

  1. Integration shouldn’t be an afterthought to innovation

When human lives are at stake, particularly those who are the most vulnerable, it makes sense that new technological applications, especially the untested ones, must pass a rigorous set of checks in order to demonstrate their value. The understanding is this: Emerging solutions need to not only bring value to patients and providers, but also work well with other platforms.

Technologies like this do exist, but the problem often lies in getting this type of technology to work within a massively complex infrastructure with differing types of security requirements. Across the country, thousands of doctors’ offices, EMS agencies and health systems use different electronic health record systems, and harnessing patient data is extremely challenging under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

That’s why EMS leaders need to think not just about the potential value of the technology they would like to leverage, but also its ability to integrate well with existing software and hardware infrastructure already in place.

2. Think of ways to achieve constant connectivity

In an era where your smartphone can easily download your vitals, such as blood pressure and respiration rates, finding ways to obtain these types of measurements are no longer considered breakthroughs.

“Patients appreciate constant connectivity, ways to interact in real time, all the time,” said Matt Penzone, a senior marketing manager at Philips, one of the world’s largest healthcare technology firms.

But achieving constant connectivity for patients can be challenging, especially when existing IT systems within agencies and ambulances aren’t able to support the connectivity capabilities of a new tool.

Whether it’s finding the right network that allows for higher speeds and bandwidth or finding the right equipment, EMS providers need to consider the areas of improvement within their fleet and agencies that can tremendously help EMS providers constantly connected care during their transport.

3. Continue to ensure your patient’s data privacy

In an age where agencies across the country rely on electronic systems and software to capture 911 call data, ambulance dispatch records and patients’ clinical information and records, many of the tasks for information access and documentation have become incredibly automated. While automation has certainly made our lives easier, it also poses a new risk that’s become increasingly apparent over the past decade: cybersecurity threats.

“Patient data needs to be protected, which provides an encryption challenge,” said Penzone. “For instance, it’s much easier to encrypt data in cellphones than data from traditional patient monitors.”

There are many resources out there that provide guidance and advice on how agencies can continuously improve their cybersecurity measures and protect patient data. Some agencies are already making the move to protect their data. For example, when one large and influential EMS agency in the Southeast wanted to evolve their operations, one of their first tasks was to install a brand-new ecosystem of IT and physical security infrastructure to protect its patients’ information.

“They even had went as far as to ensure that every computer that had access required logins and would timeout after a certain amount of time,” said Penzone. “So that’s sort of the environment we’re dealing with here.”

4. Tech innovation can also reduce risk for EMS staff – think mobility and portability

Leveraging technology that allows providers to document patient information and better follow the patient’s treatment journey can make care more accessible and easier. For instance, a bulky patient monitor that can only capture basic vitals and a tablet that captures patient documentation are both needed today, but in the future, clinicians will want more data portability to harness data from multiple sources.

“All of a sudden you have the ability to start tracking more patients on your own and gather more patient information in one place than you’re used to,” said Penzone.

Lessening the burden of information gathering benefits EMS providers not just by helping them do their jobs more easily, but also by improving documentation of care and informing better decision making in the long term.

What really matters is for EMS leaders to find nimble and flexible ways to take innovation challenges head on and take a solutions-oriented approach to these challenges along the way.

Yoona is a branded content project lead with Lexipol Brand Studio. She frequently covers public safety technology. Her bylines have appeared on The New York Times, Crain’s New York Business, the Chicago Tribune and many more. Yoona is working on getting her master of science in public health at the UNC Gillings School of Public Health.