How EMS will benefit from smartphones and connected vehicles

Dia Gainor, executive director of the National Association of State EMS Officials, envisions a future where responders will get real-time data on the best route to an incident, and smart cars will scan themselves for damages in a crash

Editor's note: This piece is adapted from an interview series published by Medlert, Inc., in collaboration with experts in EMS & medical transport. The series is being published in the LinkedIn group, the Future of Medical Transport. Join the group to be part of the conversation. 

Two-thirds of Americans now own a smartphone, and the number of cars in the U.S. exceeds the number of adults.

With mobile technology in the pockets of both patients and EMS providers, Dia Gainor, executive director of the National Association of State EMS Officials, sees a future that digitally connects roadways, infrastructures, emergency response systems and responders in new ways.

"This is happening already," Gainor said. "Especially in terms of the types of information a smartphone makes it possible to have and share."

Dia Gainor.
Dia Gainor. (Image Jeff Lucia)

Better, quicker information saves lives

Technology that moves information more quickly may help detect emergency events faster, she said. Whereas "situational blindness often compromises the patient," mobile tech will also allow emergency responders to be smarter about how help is deployed.

"I see changes in resource utilization and deployment being a big part of the future of EMS," Gainor said.

She envisions a role for "more computing to be devoted to assigning resources, without the limits that are now often placed by the invisible, geopolitical boundaries that define county lines or regions."

She also sees value in the rapid emergence of connected vehicles, which have garnered national attention and significant research funds.

Vehicle-to-responder communication: It's coming

Gainor points to the U.S. Department of Transportation's focus on the ability of smart cars to engage in vehicle-to-vehicle communication as well as vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. She also recognizes the importance of connected vehicles in encouraging collision avoidance.

But Gainor takes it one step further, saying her organization is pushing for what she calls vehicle-to-responder communication.

"A vehicle should be able to warn me about potential hazards," Gainor said, putting herself in the role of a first responder. "I would want to know, for example, about an un-deployed airbag that could suddenly deploy while my head is in front of it. Or if it's a hybrid vehicle, I want to know if I need to beware of an electrical system that is still charged."

Gainor envisions connected vehicles that even scan themselves for damages in a crash, locate passengers, and communicate to an emergency responder the best location for extrication tools to free a passenger.

"This is all very conceivable technology," Gainor said. "In fact, the technology already exists. It's just a question of connecting the dots, so the car can in fact talk to the rescuer in that kind of way."

When roads, cars, EMS and ER connect

In the future, Gainor envisions seamless and invisible connectivity between roadways and cars, including emergency response vehicles. Roads will detect, report, and warn oncoming vehicles about incidents they can't yet see. Emergency responders will be given real-time data on the best route to an incident and briefed automatically about a situation as they approach.

She also predicts a not-too-distant future where emergency responders will be able to connect back to the emergency room

"Emergency department staff can glance at one screen and see, real-time, the status of every ambulance," she said.

The staff, she said, will know information from any emergency responder that's been in contact with a patient. They'll also receive real-time updates on any patient being transported, including information from an EKG, a blood pressure monitor, blood glucose monitor, and essentially any device connected to the patient.

"All of that information will just move in real-time, ahead of the patient," she said, "so that the emergency department is prepared for any special need for which the hospital must bring special resources in advance."

For more on the conversation with Dia Gainor, go to the blog How Safe Are Ambulances?

Dia Gainor is the executive director and a past president of the National Association of State EMS Officials. She worked for two state EMS offices for 27 years, 19 of them as the bureau chief of Emergency Medical Services for the State of Idaho. In 2008, Gainor was appointed by the Secretary of the U.S. DOT to serve on the National EMS Advisory Council and was selected by the Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to be the Council's first chairman. Gainor is a member of the Transportation Safety Advancement Group, a public safety specific resource to the U.S. DOT Joint Programs Office. 

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