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Paramedics to send in vital data on the go

Jan 05 2012

B.C. Ambulance Service paramedics may soon have high-tech mobile devices that can send a patient's health chart to the hospital while they are travelling to the emergency room.

The service has put out a call for $1.6-million worth of mobile computer devices and software that, it says, will replace most paper records with electronic forms for paramedics.

"The impact on patient care is great for us," said Stephen Clinton, executive director of ambulance dispatch operations.

"Sometimes we can pass the data to the hospital before we even get there.

And that's a really good piece because it makes the patient-care process more smooth, so they're aware of the patient coming in [and] they can be ready for them before we arrive, which is a great thing and speeds up the continuum of care."

B.C. paramedics responded to 471,568 events by ground and 7,732 by air last year. In each case, they had to complete a paper patient-care report. The service scans the reports, in some cases seeking help to decipher hard-to-read handwriting, Clinton said.

The paper records are seen as labour intensive and costly compared with a portable device, such as a laptop or tablet computer.

"It does save some money," Clinton said.

The ambulance service, which is part of the provincial government, has budgeted about $1.2 million to buy 400 mobile devices and $400,000 for the software, Clinton said.

It hopes to have the new equipment in ambulances by the end of the year, he said.

The electronic system will only access ambulance service records, so paramedics will not be able to pull up a person's medical history while responding to a call.

However, Clinton said the new system could one day link ambulances to the provincial government's eHealth project, which plans to digitize people's health records, charts, medication histories and lab results.

There should also be a way to swipe and extract information from the new high-tech provincial care cards that the health ministry plans to issue.

The ambulance service employs 3,594 paramedics and dispatch staff, and has 478 ambulances. The new mobile devices should cover 80 per cent of patient cases, but not in B.C. locations where there are problems with cellphone coverage.

Paramedics union spokesman B.J. Chute said workers do not have an opinion about the proposed mobile devices, but they support anything that makes the job easier and enhances service.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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