Technology turns ambulances into ERs, reduces door to needle time
Ambulances in Cabarrus County will soon have the technology to connect stroke patients with neurologists while on their way to the hospital, cutting out a time-consuming step in the emergency room and effectively improving patient care.
County commissioners approved the Telestroke Project at the Monday, Feb. 19, regular meeting, which allowed Carolinas HealthCare System NorthEast to give the EMS department $120,000 over the course of two years to upfit the ambulances.
“It allows for the neurologist, with our help, to conduct an assessment of a stroke patient while we’re transporting them to the hospital, which will ultimately allow us to shorten the door to needle time,” Justin Brines, EMS specialty services supervisor, said at the Feb. 5 work session. “The reason we’re very excited about this is, to our knowledge, nobody else is doing this. So once again, this puts Cabarrus County EMS and Cabarrus County on the map as a trend-setter for providing excellent patient care.”
The Telestroke Project uses technology similar to a tablet to give paramedics the ability to connect with doctors in the hospital, shortening the amount of time it would normally take for a stroke victim to actually start receiving care. Typically, patients arrive at the hospital, check into the ER, receive an assessment from a neurologist and then go for a CT scan.
“We’re wanting to hopefully take that whole step out, take them straight to CT, so the treatment can begin much faster for those patients who are experiencing stroke symptoms and are ultimately having a stroke,” Brines said. “The easiest way to describe it would be like FaceTime, but it’s for the healthcare setting.”
EMS Director Alan Thompson said many hospitals have a similar setup, using teleconferencing to talk with patients at remote emergency departments to help doctors there make decisions on care and if the person should be taken elsewhere.
“It turns the back of our ambulance into an emergency department with that same type of evaluation, transport decision and directional care,” he said.
The money for the project comes from an internal grant awarded by the NorthEast Foundation and from Carolinas HealthCare System NorthEast, meaning it’s no cost to the county other than shared maintenance. Cabarrus County will receive $60,000 the first year and $60,000 the second year. Brines said they plan to start with about half the ambulances—the ones handling the farther commutes, where the program will make the most impact—before eventually rolling it out to all transport vehicles.
Installation should begin in the next month. Cabarrus County contracted with MEDRIS to install the equipment.
“It is the first of its kind project that shows the progressive nature of what’s happening here in Cabarrus County,” Thompson said. “Our hope is to expand this into other service areas that we work with through Carolinas HealthCare System NorthEast.”
Commissioners expressed support for the program at the work session in early February.
“Time is everything in these situations, so if we’re helping with that,” commissioner Blake Kiger said. “When you said best possible patient care—that’s the goal. If that’s what we’re doing, then we’re doing the right thing.”