The need for speed
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Of course, EMS is not just about transit time; it's about delivering proper treatment to a patient in a timely manner. Getting a patient to a hospital quickly is of no benefit if the needed facilities and/or medical expertise are unavailable when the ambulance arrives.
While voice communications are enough to prevent this scenario from occurring, it is not unusual for an ambulance to be driving toward one hospital only to realize that capacity constraints at the facility dictate that the patient needs to be taken to a different hospital in another direction, McGinnis said. With mobile broadband connectivity, EMS personnel in an ambulance could confirm in real time the availability of all necessary components in a hospital — appropriate medical staff, equipment and facilities — before embarking on a route with a patient.
But the most important role mobile broadband connectivity could play is to enable the exchange of patient information between two individuals who often are very busy: the ambulance paramedic and an emergency-room doctor. Typically, this communication has been a voice conversation via two-way radio, McGinnis said, but a “bottleneck” is created when the doctor and paramedic are unable to find time when both are available to talk for the time necessary to communicate observations and readings on the myriad patient vital signs being monitored.
“That's probably a good two-minute conversation today,” McGinnis said. “With even more data, that could become a three-minute or four-minute conversation between two very busy people who don't have time to do that. But I'll bet you with data communications that could become either a 30-second conversation, or it's all going to be done in a data transmission.”
A prime example for the need for EMS broadband connectivity is the emergence of remote CT scan devices, which offer considerable promise. When a patient has suffered stroke symptoms, a CT scan reading can help determine the proper treatment path, McGinnis said.
“Depending on whether it's bleeding in the head or it's a clot, the treatments are very different,” McGinnis said. “If you give the patient a clot-busting drug and it's a bleed, you make the bleed horribly worse and could kill the patient.”
McGinnis said he believes a hospital specialist likely would want to see the CT scan, but the only way to share a digital copy of the scan in sufficient detail to make such a critical determination in a timely manner is to have broadband connectivity between the ambulance and the hospital. Other desired applications require similar data rates.
“Multi-vital-signs telemetry requires 10 times the throughput that you get on UHF, VHF or trunked 800 MHz today. When you start talking about medical-quality video, you're talking about 200 times the speed of the systems that we have,” he said.