Software Enhances Ambulance Personnel's Efficiency
Point-and-click software developed at Penn
State U for use with handheld computers is enhancing patient
care by helping ambulance personnel collect data more efficiently
and provide more information to hospital emergency departments.
Janet Jonson, associate research engineer at Penn State's Applied
Research Laboratory (ARL) leads the project team. She says the new
Penn State software is unique in providing ambulance personnel with
a point-and-click method for recording information.
The software, uses a small diagram of the human body on
the handheld screen to speed up information entry about
the type and location of a victim's injuries. Pointing and
clicking on the figure where the patient is injured allows
the software to record information automatically. For example,
clicking on the figure's right arm records the location
of the injury. The attending ambulance personnel can then
select the type of injury from a drop-down list. Vital signs,
including blood pressure, pulse, EKG number, etc., can also
be entered by point and click via sliding scales and drop-down
The information entered via point and click can then be transferred
to the Emergency Department right from the scene via wireless-cellular
modem. Or, the information can be transferred by "beaming"
it from the Palm to a printer at the hospital that supports infrared
In addition, the new software enables the information collected
during an ambulance run to be uploaded quickly to a desktop PC to
complete the administrative record and report information for the
statewide, pre-hospital trip report required by Pennsylvania law.
"Field trials are showing that the new software enhances record
accuracy. It also can help ambulance personnel provide a higher
level of patient information and save significant amounts of time
when they complete the pre-hospital trip report," Jonson notes.
Currently, the new application is being used in field trials by
Danville Ambulance in Danville, Pa., and by Alpha
Community Ambulance Services, Inc. in State College, Pa. The
Life Flight helicopter crews at Geisinger Health Systems in Danville
will soon join the field trials.
Dr. Douglas Kupas, Emergency Department physician at Geisinger,
is serving as medical adviser to the application development team.
"We recognized early on that ambulance personnel needed a
better, quicker, way to communicate patient information to receiving
hospitals, particularly, for trauma patients in rural areas. Delayed
reports about what happened at the scene of an accident can delay
treatment," says Kupas.
"Although we started this project with the idea of helping
trauma patients, it quickly became evident that all patients served
by ambulance personnel could benefit from the improved communication
and record keeping," he adds.
Roger Bressler, Alpha paramedic, has participated in the software
field trials from the start. Alpha staff currently share 10 Palm
III handheld computers equipped with infrared ports. Three of the
company's five ambulances also have Palms with keyboards aboard.
Bressler estimates that Alpha personnel make 10 to 12 runs in a
12-hour period and that three or four could require an hour or two
of overtime to prepare trip sheets. Using the new software and hand
held computers, the same record keeping task can take only 15 minutes.
"If you are familiar with the technology, it saves time and
improves accuracy," says Bressler. "You can write narratives
while you are looking at the patient."
Scott Danowsky, EMS Coordinator for the Emergency Department at
Geisinger, has also participated in the pilot project from the start.
He says that between 12 and 15 Danville ambulance crewmembers are
currently using the new software and handheld computers. Five Life
Flight helicopter crewmembers are being trained in the new application.
Eddie Crow, ARL associate research engineer and project team manager,
says "The overall emergency services response to a vehicle
crash and accident victim is improved with the use of this new technology
through accurate and complete health status information sent to
the emergency department physician."
The Geisinger Health System and Penn State's Applied Research Laboratory
are the principal parties in the pilot program. The Pennsylvania
Department of Health, Bureau of Emergency Services is providing
support for the field trials. Med-Media,
Inc., a platform and architecture solutions development company
based in Harrisburg, Pa., currently has a license to develop and
market the software under the brand name R-EMstat.