New ambulance technology could save lives

January 20, 2011 7:33:51 PM PST
In the case of a serious heart attack, minutes can mean the difference between life and death. Now, new technology being tested in Contra Costa County is buying precious time for patients. Emergency responders there gave ABC7 a demonstration of how the system works.

The crew on board the ambulance being used in the demonstration has rushed countless heart attack patients to emergency rooms. But now, critical pieces of information are arriving well before they do.

"Depending on the wireless connect it's pretty quick, it's already at 90 percent," paramedic Nicole Morrison said.

The patient on the gurney is a volunteer, but the EKG machine that Morrison is monitoring for this demonstration is used every day during emergency calls. It is part of a pilot study by John Muir Medical Center and Contra Costa County Emergency Services.

In a few moments, the EKG machine will print a readout of the patient's heart rhythms. What is unique is at the same time the results of the EKG will also be transmitted to the hospital.

In a matter of moments, the alert and the patient's EKG is received at John Muir's state of the art Chest Pain Center in Concord. The wireless system, known as Life-Net, employs a combination of a cell signal and computer routers. Based on the readings, doctors can prepare their team to deliver treatments ranging from angioplasty to placing a stent in a blocked artery.

"The ability to modify decision making before a patient arrives at the facility and influence treatment even before the patient arrives, I believe, is a huge improvement," Dr. Howard Min said.

John Muir is one of only six facilities in Contra Costa County equipped to handle major heart attacks.

Director Patrick Kavanaugh says national standards call for intervention within 90 minutes of a patient's arrival. In part, with the help of the new system, John Muir has cut that time to under an hour.

"The sooner the vessels opened, the better the outcome for the patient," Kavanaugh said.

While there is no data on how many lives the system may have saved, doctors expect it to soon become standard for emergency response.

"I think it's the wave of the future, earlier intervention better intervention," Min said.

Contra Costa County is in the process of expanding their trial. In a few months they plan to install the system at Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo.