EMS Apps Make Life Easier

For EMS, the app market is growing.


EMS apps—small, EMS-specific applications that run on smartphones—are proving to be extremely valuable tools for EMTs. Collectively they bring sophisticated lifesaving technologies and knowledge bases to wherever an EMT is working, even in the remotest of areas.

“There are several apps out there now useful to EMS,” says Josh Mularella, DO, owner of Denali Apps and an emergency medicine resident at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. “These range from protocol apps to drug references and hazmat guides. Some are even designed for prehospital documentation of patient encounters.”

Worth noting: “Most developers of EMS apps realize these will be used out in the field and that sometimes a wireless signal will not be available,” Mularella adds. “Because of that, most of these apps (including all of mine) are designed to have all the content within the app itself. Therefore, they will run with or without cell coverage or Internet access.”

What’s Available

All kinds of EMS apps are available through specific makers’ websites or third-party retailers like iTunes.com. Additionally, a simple Google search using the words EMS apps reveals a stunning range of apps for this medical sector.

Example #1: The popular and free Epocrates Rx app provides EMTs with a comprehensive drug reference guide right on their iPhones and Android handsets. Epocrates Rx lets users search specific drugs and their effects using brand names, generic alternatives and over-the-counter (OTC) versions.

“Epocrates Rx includes thousands of brand, generic and OTC medicines, dosing information, adverse reactions, black box warnings and a pill ID tool,” says Marianne Braunstein, Epocrates’ VP of product management. “It also features MultiCheck, our comprehensive drug interaction checker, which allows users to enter up to 30 prescription and OTC medications at a time and instantly review potential interactions.”

EMTs need a way to stay updated on the most important drug and diagnostic information, which keeps changing as new products are introduced. This is where an EMS app like Epocrates Rx can help: “There are millions of drug-drug interactions, even with OTC or alternative medicines, that no one person can memorize, and our MultiCheck product allows users to type in the medications and view potential contraindications or adverse effects on the spot,” says Braunstein. “For emergency responders, Epocrates can also be helpful in identifying mystery pills through shape and color characteristics.”

One last perk: The Epocrates app lets its users—not just EMTs, but physicians and nurses—connect directly to drug manufacturers to ask clinical questions.

All of this capability is free. Meanwhile, “for an annual $159 subscription fee, clinicians can upgrade to Epocrates Essentials, a clinical suite with additional disease content and diagnostic tools,” Braunstein notes. “This version also provides access to treatment guidelines, lab tests and panels with reference ranges.”

Example #2: Time is precious at an accident scene, especially if an air ambulance has to be called. To reduce waiting times Northwest MedStar, a nonprofit air ambulance service based in Washington, has created the MedStar Alert app.

This free EMS app lets an EMT send GPS coordinates from their smartphone to Northwest MedStar’s Communication Center. The data puts MedStar on alert, allowing them to determine which helicopter is nearest the scene and how long it would take to fly there if needed. A crew is put on standby at the same time. If the responding EMT subsequently decides helicopter transport is required, this app ensures it is ready to go as soon as possible.

“This is an innovative way to let that mobile device aid in the care of our customers by helping reduce our on-scene times within the golden hour,” notes Howard Johnson III, a division chief with Spokane County Fire District #4 in Chattaroy, WA.

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