Hybrid Telehealth Tech Allows Docs to Follow EMTs in the Field

As mobile solutions become more robust, the healthcare sector continues to benefit. Telehealth technology has revolutionized home healthcare, but also has much broader potential for connecting doctors with at-risk patients in the field. The article below discusses one of these new applications, in which emergency room physicians can connect remotely with paramedics to stabilize and treat patients earlier.

The COVID-19 pandemic set the stage for growth in telehealth, but the technology used could be about to take a giant leap forward and give doctors and their patients a better chance for a successful outcome.

The Mayo Clinic has partnered on a pilot with OPTAC-X on a hybrid LTE-global SATCOM telehealth technology that allows doctors to hear and see what is happening with a patient either in the ambulance or in the field. It gives the doctor and the hospital a head start on treating that patient with clearer, more informed communication that is less susceptible to being interrupted than typical cellular communication.

The doctors reported that a recent cellular service outage had no negative effect on the pilot program. The hybrid system operates on both cellular/LTE telecommunications and Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit (GEO) satellite communications systems that allow paramedics to connect with doctors inside or outside of the ambulance regardless of local Wi-Fi or cellular availability.

“We’ve had just a few cases so far as the pilot is just starting and it’s working very well,” said Dr. Christopher Russi, current emergency medicine physician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “Physicians here, including myself, are really excited about the potential and what this means about the ability to come on and help our paramedics and flight team medics.”

Russi said the use cases are infinite.

With the OPTAC-X technology, the medic wearing the device can be mobile — up to 500 feet or more from the ambulance — and hands-free. “I, as a physician, can be there in real time with that paramedic seeing what they’re seeing, hearing what they’re hearing and guiding them on procedures and just being a second set of eyes on things that are complex or challenging,” Russi said.

“They’ve talked about 300 meters [nearly 1,000 feet] minimum if you have a good line of site,” said Dr. Patrick Fullerton, president and CEO of OPTAC-X. “The terrain, mountainous terrain is going to be more challenging. If you have regular, flat terrain, you’re talking about miles of connectivity.”

He said the cognitive burden on paramedics is extremely high. There are just two of them and one has to drive the vehicle. The other has to take care of a really sick patient.

“What it means for the patient,” said Fullerton, “is you literally have whatever physician you need onsite to help you care for patients early. How many times do we get calls from EMS, and they tell us by antiquated radio what they have and their arrival time, which is really fragmented.”

Fullerton said having the ability to see inside the ambulances or from wherever the EMT is gives the hospital and doctors the opportunity to start treatment even before the patient arrives.

“[Paramedics] are on the ground, they have a gunshot wound, and we can help them stabilize that gunshot wound even before they put him into the rig,” Fullerton said. “Then we can monitor that patient with the medic and we can see what they see, communicating directly with the medic and we have audio and visual capabilities.”


This article is written by Jim McKay from Government Technology and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the DiveMarketplace by Industry Dive. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.