Emergency medical services (EMS) personnel soon may leverage information from myriad medical devices and reliable broadband connectivity from FirstNet to provide better initial treatment to patients, as well as unprecedented situational awareness to others in the healthcare ecosystem, according to FirstNet board member Kevin McGinnis.

Such capabilities could save many lives, in part because they promise to compress the time it takes to move a critically injured patient from the scene of an emergency incident to an operating room, when a surgeon can take measures to save the patient, McGinnis said. Often referenced as the “golden hour,” the actual time can vary with the injury suffered, but there is no doubt that delays can be the difference between a patient’s life and death, he said.

“We know that it can’t afford 20 minutes to discover that you’ve been in a crash in a rural area—that’s the average time to discover a rural crash in Maine, where I live,” McGinnis said last week during a panel at IWCE’s IoT Saving Lives event in Santa Clara, Calif. “And you can’t afford to take 30 minutes then for an ambulance to come out to you, assess you and have the paramedic say, ‘That’s potentially a fatal injury. Let’s call a helicopter,’ and have the helicopter fire up, come to the scene, grab you, take you to the hospital and get you under the knife.

“20 minutes [plus] 30 minutes [plus] 50 minutes [plus] 40 minutes is a lot longer than any hour, golden or otherwise. We simply can’t afford that kind of time.”

Technological advances can change this time-sensitive equation dramatically, McGinnis said while citing the example of a rural car crash. Advanced automatic crash notification systems not only can alert 911 immediately that a crash has occurred, it can provide sensor data about the number of passengers in the vehicle, the type of crash and the likelihood of severe injuries. Policies can be established to either have helicopters prepare or actually deploy to a scene, based on this data, he said.

Other technology also can be used to provide situational awareness, McGinnis said.

“We fire up a drone and send it to the scene, so it can fly over the scene and look at the incident,” he said. “Are there patients crawling out of that care and into the forest that we should know about? Are there gases or liquids coming out of that care that we should avoid as we approach the scene?”

Once on the scene, technology can help EMS personnel work much more efficiently than today, McGinnis said. Currently, it takes EMS personnel 6-10 minutes to get out an ambulance, assess a patient, collect vital signs, write down the results and call a doctor to discuss the findings.

“In the future, we’re going to look more like: Hop out of the ambulance, turn on a video cam, body cam or whatever, run some shot of the car and the patient into a database, start talking—through a throat mic—our medical report as we’re observing things, having the voice-to-text translation put that into a text file,” McGinnis said.

In the future, paramedics could collect vital signs quickly, especially as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology directorate hopes to commercialize next year a $5 or $10 matchbox-sized vital-sign monitor “that will turn the monitoring business in EMS on its ear,” McGinnis said. A host of other health monitors recently have been introduced are about to be unveiled, and reliable FirstNet connectivity can enable more telemedical opportunities with doctors that are located remotely, he said.