Posted by on October 26, 2016

The Goodyear Fire Department is trading paper for tablets in an effort to make reporting patient information to hospitals faster, more versatile and more efficient.

For the past year, the department has been documenting emergency medical care on an iPad application, recording everything from patient history to vital signs to drug use, as well as photographing incidents. The information is either inputted by first responders or synced automatically from heart-monitoring machines.

Data are stored and sent ahead to hospitals to give crews a better sense of the patient before he or she arrives.

“Turnaround time has gotten better,” Fire Chief Paul Luizzi said. “It really has made us more efficient.”

Capt. Steve Mann, who was in charge of implementing the technology, said electronic patient-care reporting doesn’t necessarily mean the difference between life and death.

“If there’s a serious patient, the last thing that guys are really doing is charting or worry about that information,” he said. “It’s all about patient care.”

But the technology has had a number of benefits, including the ability to show a patient’s signs and symptoms as opposed to just describing them. Before, emergency personnel had to call trauma doctors and describe a patient over the phone, but now, they can either send data or show pictures.

The iPads also allow emergency personnel to have patient history and protocol for unique situations cataloged on the device. If they need to look something up, they can hop on the Internet via the tablet.

“It’s all available just like that,” Mann said. “That part has been a super good enhancement for us.”

The Goodyear Fire Department received a $51,880 grant from the Gila River Indian Community’s state-shared revenue program in October 2013 to make patient-care reporting electronic. Shortly after, Mann sought a technology that would best suit the department’s needs.

He visited other fire departments in the Valley before using a focus group to compare systems. The Goodyear Fire Department eventually signed a three-year contract with Tempe-based Starwest Technologies, and began using their application, ZOI, in September 2014.

“We were the first department to go with (Starwest Technologies) as a full department,” Mann said.

The department was able to use the grant money to purchase 22 iPads, or two per truck, and upgrade their heart-monitoring machines. Responders can send information such as heart rates and blood-pressure readings wirelessly from the machine to the iPads using magnetic bar codes.

“(The barcode) pulls the data from the machine and then automatically fills the fields on the iPad, which is essentially the same as the paper patient-reporting form,” he said.

During his research, Mann found that a number of fire departments in the West Valley, including Avondale and Peoria, were using ImageTrend, a similar content-management system for patient care reporting. That system required a keyboard, though, and the department chose ZOI over ImageTrend because the iPads are more personal than a laptop, he said.

“An iPad is a lot less intrusive,” Mann said. “It’s not very big, I can establish a good rapport with you as a patient, I can always put it down.”

β€œAn iPad is a lot less intrusive. … It’s not very big, I can establish a good rapport with you as a patient, I can always put it down.” – Goodyear Fire Capt. Steve Mann

He also said the learning curve for the iPad was more moderate.

“We tend to be on the younger side of the departments,” Mann said. “Most folks had either owned iPads or had some experience with it. … There was very little resistance to that transition.”

The department, which receives 6,500 emergency medical calls a year, can also now track information they could not before. They’ve started measuring continuous quality improvement, a measurement that evaluates outcomes to see whether the department handled emergencies correctly. They found that that figure was 90 percent.

They’ve also been able to share information with state agencies conducting research on big topics, such as data related to head injuries and heart attacks.

Additionally, they’ve also been able to look at trends and adjust accordingly. For example, the number of patients whose main complaint was tied to behavioral issues has increased by almost 55 percent in the past year, so the department catered training around those issues.

Mann said the department hopes to eventually communicate with hospitals completely wirelessly. Fire officials also hope to to be able to Skype with hospital personnel as opposed to speaking over the phone.

The Goodyear Fire Department currently has those capabilities, but Abrazo West Campus does not. The department sends 90 percent of patients to the trauma center at that hospital.

In the meantime, the Goodyear Fire Department has helped a number of other fire departments in the Valley set up the same system, including Sun City, Glendale and Scottsdale. The departments came to Mann to ask advice about functionality, user-ability and interactions with the company.

“So far, everyone that has gone to it has been really happy,” he said. “We all kind of collaborated to add enhancements to the way it flows on a call, which is kind of nice. … We all do things real similar but slightly different.”

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