Ambulance service gets tough with patient data

Victoria's Metropolitan Ambulance Service has issued its paramedic teams with fully ruggedized Panasonic CF-18 Toughbook laptops for use across its entire fleet of 160 ambulances.

Toughbooks are already being used by more than 300 paramedics across some 30 paramedic teams. By the end of 2006, more than 200 Toughbooks will have been rolled out to 1000 paramedics in about 100 teams.

The Toughbooks will be used primarily in tablet PC form and will run a software program called Vacis (Victorian Ambulance Clinical Information System), which the ambulance service designed and developed to assist paramedics by simplifying the process of capturing patient data for further analysis and reporting.

The Toughbooks will also hold information to help paramedics whilst they work including clinical practice guidelines, animated work instructions, training materials and the eMIMS electronic drug database.

With the service's paramedics handling a quarter of a million emergency cases a year, Cameron Crampton, general manager of Melbourne Ambulance Service's information management services, said it is essential that the equipment they use is reliable and can withstand a harsh working environment. The paramedic environment is pretty tough, he said, with the Toughbooks used in a range of situations. "It could be loaded on the back of a stretcher, thrown in the back of an ambulance, or covered in fluids," he said.

The laptops were built to military specifications, Crampton said, and paramedics appreciated that the ruggedization had not compromised technical performance.

"Previously, paramedics had to hand write a paper-based patient care record. The ability to analyze data [from the forms] was very limited," he said. "We have teams of people going through each record pulling out information such as cardiac, trauma and drug information. It's very labour-intensive and we could only get a limited range of information."

Now teams can get up-to-date information, and produce more detailed reports.

Now, paramedics using Vacis provide the hospital with a paper copy of the patient care record, which is printed in the ambulance or at the hospital using the 802.11 wireless and Bluetooth features of the Toughbook. A future enhancement to Vacis will enable the patient care information to be wirelessly transferred direct to the hospital emergency department's information system.

Paramedics are also able to use the Toughbook while the ambulance is in motion by securing it to a seatbelt-type restraint. When the Toughbook isn't in use it can be secured into a specially-fitted pocket in the ambulance.

Queensland Ambulance Service collaborated with the Victorian service in the development of Vacis and the Sunshine State has begun its own rollout of the system. Other states, including Tasmania, have also shown interest in the system.

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