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NPSTC Delves Into Prehospital Video for EMS As FirstNet Approaches


As efforts continue to roll out the FirstNet 700 MHz broadband communications network for U.S.-based first responders, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) has been studying which applications would be most useful for EMS agencies (among others).

The fruit of the Council's latest effort is the recently released NPSTC report, EMS Telemedicine Report: Prehospital Use of Video Technologies. Spearheaded by the NPSTC EMS Communications Working Group (NPSTC EMSCWG), which is comprised of about 80 volunteers from across the EMS sector, the NPSTC Prehospital Video Report is a research-backed, EMS peer-based enquiry into which applications U.S. EMS professionals would find most useful over FirstNet. The NPSTC prehospital video report is available for download here.

“We made compiling and completing this report top priority,” says Paul Patrick, chair of the NPSTC EMSCWG. “With the emergence of broadband communications for EMS via FirstNet, two-way video-based EMS telemedicine (EMST) is a natural application. The question is how to employ it, and which EMST applications make most sense for EMS crews on the road.” For the record, possible EMST applications include:

  • Transmitting stills/videos of injured patients and diagnostic imagery from incident scenes/ambulances to receiving hospitals;
  • Two-way real-time consultations between EMS first responders, patients, and hospital-based medical staff;
  • Temote monitoring to access and adjust home-based treatment devices being used by patients.

To answer these questions, the NPSTC EMSCWG sent out comprehensive questionnaires nationwide to more than 670 respondents representing prehospital EMS providers, hospital emergency department directors, trauma center directors, EMS medical directors and online EMS medical control physicians. Of the 670 people who took part, 77% of all respondents favored the use of EMST over a series of patient care scenarios.

The NPSTC Prehospital Video questionnaire was broken into assessing the value of role-specific and scenario-specific video-driven EMST applications over FirstNet.

“In the role-specific value segment, respondents were asked to pick video applications they thought would be useful for online EMS medical control physicians, hospital emergency department and trauma center staffs, and prehospital EMS providers,” states the NPSTC Prehospital Video Report.

Looking at the role-specific segment, where prehospital EMS staff were asked to choose the most useful EMST video applications from 11 options, 68.6% chose risk management on patient refusals as number one. They were followed by 67.7% for risk management of unruly patient behavior; 64.4% wanting additional training via video, and 61.4% asking for quality assurance/post-incident analyses over FirstNet.

Meanwhile, the scenario-specific value segment asked respondents to indicate which EMS scenarios would benefit from the use of two-way picture/video consultations with ER staff and hospital-based medical control facilities. Of the 77% of respondents who thought this would be a helpful EMS application for FirstNet, 81.4% wanted to use it for severe injury/motor vehicle trauma patients; 81% for physician-assisted patient assessment for stroke patients, and 79.5% for such assistance with pediatric asthma patients. 76.5% thought two-way EMST would be a big help in managing mass casualty situations, while 65.1% thought it would help with diabetic patients who refuse care from EMS.

Clearly, research such as the NPSTC Prehospital Video Report will aid NPSTC and FirstNet officials in selecting and deploying the most useful broadband applications for EMS. But this isn’t all the NPSTC EMSWCWG is working on.

“We are now looking into the broadband needs of rural EMS agencies and how they differ from urban EMS crews,” says Barry Luke, NPSTC’s Deputy Executive Director. “Compared to urban crews, rural EMS technicians are at risk of losing trained skills due to using them less frequently on the job. They also typically have much larger areas to cover and longer transit times to the ER. Using FirstNet to address these issues, and to help rural EMS serve their communities more effectively, is another big priority for NPSTC.”

In the longer term, “the NPSTC EMSCWG is looking ahead to 2025, to assess the possible evolution of EMS and how FirstNet may affect these changes,” says Patrick.

In doing all of this work, the NPSTC always on the lookout for EMS professionals who want to shape the future of U.S public safety communications.

“Just get in touch with us through,” Luke says. “We are always looking for qualified volunteers who want to help!”

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