EMTs go high-tech to save time, money

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VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) — The Vicksburg Fire Department is the guinea pig of sorts in a state-run pilot program that allows emergency medical workers to send their run reports to state officials and hospitals from the field.

"We're the first in the state to have this system, which means we are the ones who get the headaches before anyone else," said deputy fire chief Kenneth Daniels, who oversees the fire department's ambulance and emergency medical services.

He said a few weeks into the program, the headaches have been few.

So far, the only problem medics faced involved a communications error, which Daniels said was fixed by the city's information technology department.

The system, which went online Feb. 24, is funded through grants from the state's Bureau of Emergency Medical Services and the Mississippi Trauma Care System totaling an estimated $25,000.

"No city funds are paying for this," Fire Chief Charles Atkins said.

"What this does is allow us to send reports to the state, the hospital and our offices simultaneously," Daniels said. "The report is filed after the patient is received at the hospital and the patient, the receiving nurse and the medic sign off on it."

The reporting system uses a laptop computer, which displays a template showing a form with tabs for the necessary information on the patient, such as the type of injury or illness, symptoms, the patient's medical history and the treatment provided by the paramedic. The program also features a diagram of the human body that allows the medic to indicate the location and type of injury.

"When we pick up a patient and put in their medical history, that information stays in the computer for a year," said fire department Capt. Daryl Carson, a firefighter/paramedic. "The next time we have a call to pick that patient, we enter the name and their information shows up on the computer screen. We have a lot of people we pick up a lot, so having that information available helps us."

That information, Daniels said, is also included in the report the hospital receives.

"Having that information in our system, where we can get a patient's medical history, the medications they take and their allergies helps a lot," said Dr. Tim Flowers, an emergency room physician at River Region Medical Center. "We can't begin to treat a patient until we know their history, what drugs they're taking and their allergies. Having that information stored and available helps us to be able to treat them and get them in our system."

He said the emergency room already receives current information on heart attack patients from medics while they are in route to the hospital.

"That helps us get things like the (cardiac) cath lab ready," Flowers said.

Besides providing immediate medical information, the reporting system requires less time for the medic to file the report.

"They can file a report in about 10 minutes, and everything is filed in the system," Daniels said. "Before, it took four people — the medic had to fill out a written form, someone else did quality assurance, then someone entered the statistics, and it went to billing. Now, everything is done at once."

As an example, Daniel said, he was able to come to work one morning and examine the weekend run reports by going to his computer and calling them up.

"We're not using a lot of paper," Atkins said. "So we're saving money and time."

"You cut down on paperwork and you cut down mistakes, because no one has to try and interpret someone's handwriting and getting the wrong thing. It's much more efficient and it's easier to update and pass along information," said city Alderman Willis Thompson, who oversees the fire department's activities.

Daniels said the system has other features that have not been accessed or tried, such as billing patients for services.

"There's a lot of things we're going to have to look at as we go on," he said. "We're still learning about this system."

"The IT Department helped us a lot with this," Atkins said, "Billy Gordon and Pam Freeman stayed with us and did some fine work. We're pretty pleased with it."

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Information from: The Vicksburg Post, http://www.vicksburgpost.com

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