Electronic Patient Care Reports Save Lives, Time, and Money


In emergencies, every second counts when it comes to patient assessment and care. During calm times, every penny counts as well.

Now there’s new technology gaining speed among South Sound emergency medical services departments — electronic patient care — to facilitate communication between injured people, health care sites and emergency stations.

“It allows providers to have immediate access to patient data from the fire departments when they get to the scene,” said Scott Streicher, SafetyPAD EMS systems director. “And that reduces time in the field.”

Patient perks

Such streamlined technology is transmitted from within a military-grade, laptop-style computer on which emergency services receive initial call data via 911 operators. Information is also dispatched to station vehicles, as well as local hospitals and emergency service departments, so everyone working on the case has the same and most accurate data.

Kevin Anderson, assistant fire chief for Lewis County 15, said his department has been using the electronic patient care reporting system for several years, and the technology has been a boon for his team.

“It’s a big advantage in having folks enter data — demographics, individual conditions, what we do for the patient, where we deliver them,” Anderson said, “and that we’re able to glean back out that data, and use it to follow all of the activity and provide a continuation of quality care.”

Thurston County’s Medic One service also has bought into the system.

“Now we have a very complete and very clear picture of what’s going on,” said ALS Coordinator Pete Suver, whose department recently invested in SafetyPAD. Suver said that in addition to enhanced information, the clarity of the data has been appreciated at all ends of the system.

“After one of the first calls we ran (using the system), a doctor — whose assistant that handled the charts had notoriously terrible handwriting — sent in a fax about the report, which just said, "I can read it!"

Far and wide

Quite a few entities throughout the South Sound now use the system for its ease of full-scale data accessibility across the board, Anderson said. It also can be tailored to the needs of the individual fire departments and different regions.

“Because it’s all Web-based, we can get the information (about an emergency) from any computer with Internet access,” he said. “And the nice thing about it is that all data is held entirely in one location so anybody can access it — well, anybody who’s got clearance, anyway.”

Suver said connectivity — particularly in the outreaches of Thurston County — has so far been the only rare challenge.

“As the data becomes more complete, all the physician has to do is look at his register to decide the best treatment,” he said. “And that’s better for the patient, that’s for sure.”

The system also allows firefighters and paramedics to spend less time on each call — meaning that it saves money.

“Less time in the field means that more emergencies can be covered at less cost,” Streicher said. “Yet, on the administrative side, it also lets providers focus more on treating the patient and less (paying people to do) all the documentation.”

Testing 1-2-3

In Thurston County, where 15 fire districts cover 737 square miles of city and unincorporated terrain, Suver said that his department was ahead of the game when it appointed a team to research such systems a decade ago.

“Pretty soon we saw the world in two groups: the people who would produce the data and the people who would use the data — and the need for any system we implemented to satisfy both ends,” he said. “But one of the challenges was that the people in charge of designing the system, and who have the money to buy it, don’t relate to the people who actually do the work.”

The group was dispatched to investigate systems in Oklahoma City and Louisville, Ky., where they discovered the pros and cons of the various technology each city was using.

We jumped in the rigs and rode around with the guys. We asked open-ended questions,” Suver said. “We discovered that for Oklahoma City, those using the system actually hated the thing, while in Louisville it was a different story: they loved it. They were comfortable with and were able to integrate it into the daily workflow. So that’s what we chose.”

Real results

Today, Medic One — established in 1974 as the country’s first public, countywide, tiered response system — serves more than 252,000 Thurston County residents. Last year, thanks in part to the department’s new SafetyPAD electronic patient care system, paramedics took nearly 10,000 calls and transported more than 4,200 life-critical patients.

The average response time throughout the county’s broad service region? Just 11.7 minutes: 10 minutes for urban neighborhoods, 20 minutes for suburbs and 30 minutes for rural areas.

Tumwater Fire Department paramedic Gary Burkhart said that his station has been using this type of system for nine or 10 years, but since the implementation of SafetyPAD, the response process has become smoother.

“The calls go out to my cell and when I get in the truck, it’s already on screen. The software keeps track of all the patient’s physical data,” he said. “Everyone sees the same things. And although I’m not in love with the system, it’s changed our response to calls and the way we track the numbers for the better.”

Budget boon

Not only does the system quicken care for emergency victims, it’s also beneficial to the station’s bottom line.

“Because we can now merge all of the clinical and operational data, we have a very good idea what kinds of calls we have in a day,” Suver said. “That way we can make sure we have resources put in the right place.”

Suver cites the example of the Hawks Prairie Fire Department, which was considering whether to add another medical unit to cover calls 24 hours a day. After crunching two years worth of data gathered by electronic patient care technology, it concluded the cost wasn’t worth it.

“We were able to say, If you put a unit on 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., you’ll have an average of 2.4 calls. If you put one on 24 hours, you’ll only get one additional call per day,” Suver said. “Things aren’t as wild and wooly as people imagine. In fact, they’re fairly predictable. And the result was deferring the cost of adding four additional people on staff for five years.”

Faster, farther

As the technology catches on with emergency services providers, Streicher expects to see sales of SafetyPAD and similar products rise even more — although the revenue isn’t the first thing in his mind.

“The basic premise with these additional capabilities is to ensure that paramedics, firefighters and EMT personnel have the tools they need to most efficiently and effectively treat patients on scene, while also working seamlessly with hospitals and other facilities,” he said.

But the bonus of cost-savings is what often sells management on the system, Streicher said.

“Because departments don’t require additional manpower resources, our platform not only saves money and time, but directly assists emergency services personnel in saving lives,” he said. “And that’s why we’re in this business.”

Writer Holly Smith Peterson can be reached at hpeterson@BusinessExaminer.com

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News Archives:

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