EMS = Expert Mobile Solution
Using an obsolete paper-based system, San Diego Medical Services Enterprise LLC, a public-private partnership between the City of San Diego and Rural/Metro Ambulance Corporation, used to lose $2.5 million a year in patient billing due to lost, illegible, or inaccurate records kept at accident and fire scenes. Today SDMSE uses a proprietary mobile software solution running on Palm Inc. TungstenT handsets to keep clear, accurate records at the scene and the hospital, and integrates that data with home-office computers using the Data Sync system from Intellisync, now part of Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK)
The result: Patient-record losses have dropped to near zero. What's more, says IT manager John Pringle, patient care has improved as well.
"It results in better treatment, because we're able to track the trends going on out there," explains Pringle. "And it gives paramedics more time to consider the needs of the patient at their side rather than thinking about paperwork."
Though the San Diego first-responders put up some resistance to the shift at first, the system demonstrates the power of mobile devices and applications beyond corporate email. (See Device Trends: What's Next?.)
"Every day we see new proof that we've merely scratched the surface when it comes to mobility," says Bill Jones, director of product management at Nokia. "Access to information on-the-go is no longer just for the corporate elite."
Traditionally, firefighters and emergency services personnel would fill out reports at the end of their shifts -- shifts that could include 20 calls over 24 hours for paramedics. "Sometimes they'd be too exhausted to properly fill out the forms or even get them turned in," says San Diego Fire Captain Greg George. Out of about 200 call reports a day, the Enterprise was losing as many as 15; attempts to recover that information were invariably fruitless. Even when the forms got filled out they were often inaccurate, incomplete, or illegible.
Luckily, George had programming experience on the Palm OS, and he created an application, called TapChart, a record-keeping application in the Satellite Forms development environment. Able to record up to 4700 separate data-points on each patient (the total gathered in real-world situations is far smaller), TapChart was initially rolled out mainly for quality assurance purposes, but it became clear that the data included on the TungstenT devices could serve more comprehensive purposes as well.
So far Pringle has deployed about 150 handhelds to fire trucks and ambulances. Arriving first on the scene, firefighters record initial patient data on their handhelds, then transmit it via wireless infrared connection to TungstenTs carried by the paramedics as the ambulances arrive. The paramedics complete the forms at the E.R. and, post-incident, upload the information to computers at the station houses via Data Sync. SDMSE is in the planning process to replace the 16-year-old terminals in ambulances and fire trucks with Bluetooth enabled laptops, enabling wireless synching on-scene.
Cost of the system: about $400 per device plus under $35,000 for upfront software costs and around $3600 in annual maintenance fees. "It's increased revenues by over $1.5 million a year," says Pringle. "It's paid for itself significantly."
The biggest hurdle initially to implementing the system was not technological but personal. Firefighters and paramedics were not keen on the idea of becoming handheld computer jockeys, at first. "They're great at axes and hoses and IVs," says Pringle, "not so great at computers."
To drive use of the devices and help the first-responders grow comfortable with them, Pringle came up with a novel idea. He installed games on the devices. He downloaded free Web-based knockoffs of Asteroids, Pac-Man, and Tetris onto the Palm handhelds. Usage soared and complaints died off.
"Eventually I had to take the games off" the TungstenTs, Pringle adds. "They were killing the batteries."
— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung