Emergency service turns to wireless

Following Victoria's lead, the Ambulance Service of NSW will make the leap from paper to the latest wireless technologies in the pursuit of improved patient care.

The organisation is in the final stages of readying technical systems and training ambulance officers for a 10-week live trial of an Ambulance Electronic Patient Record (AEPR) system.

The Victorian Ambulance Service goes live shortly with its own $2.5 million Victorian Ambulance Clinical Information System.

Initially about 500 Victorian paramedics will be trained on the system, which will be implemented in 21 metropolitan ambulance locations and 11 major rural centres.

Victorian Health Minister, John Thwaites, said the SafetyPAD pen-based computer will replace handwritten patient notes.

The NSW AEPR trial, involving the Concord, Liverpool and Grafton Base Hospitals, will utilise the same technology.

Roger Hanssen, IT manager for the Ambulance Service of NSW, said once a patient has been attended, the ambulance officer will enter summary details of the case and send them to the destination hospital. The information will appear on a computer screen within the emergency department.

He said officers involved in the trial will do this via a SafetyPAD emergency medicine system operating on a Hammerhead pen-based handheld computer running Microsoft Windows 98.

The system allows for simple data entry, with pick lists and checkboxes. The computer will also act as a valuable reference tool, storing information on protocols, drug usage, assessment and treatment procedures.

Bluetooth cards will connect the computers to Ericsson T39 Telstra-serviced GPRS phones. "Information is then sent via secure channels to dedicated desktop computers in the hospital which are provided with a SafetyPAD viewer to display the cases," Hanssen said. On arrival at the hospital, the ambulance officer will print out on a standard laser printer, via an infrared interface, a copy of the report to assist in handover, assessment and prioritisation of the patient.

At present in NSW, only life-threatening conditions like resuscitation are radioed ahead to hospitals.

The $500,000 NSW project has taken place in two phases using funding provided by the NSW Office of Information Technology as part of the connect.nsw initiative.

The first phase, a proof of concept, is now complete. This pilot consisted of eight ambulance crews using the device over six months, in conjunction with paper-based patient records, with the emergency department of the Concord Hospital in Sydney.

The live pilot, scheduled to begin on May 15, is phase two.

Hanssen said the NSW Government will evaluate the results of the trial and "any future developments will depend on the outcomes".

"This would include consideration of future requirements of the Ambulance Service of NSW, questions of integration with other health systems and networks, and the availability of hardware and software solutions in a rapidly developing area of IT.

"A number of potential solutions exist ,including PDAs and mobile phones. We are not ruling out any possibilities at this stage. The trial is based on technical components that are already in use."

Hanssen said if the trial is developed further, the service will conduct a full tender for an AEPR solution.

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