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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.

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1 and EMS1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.