St. Louis gets emergency patient-tracking system

The wireless system will collect information at the scene and alert hospitals and emergency managers of the nature and scope of incidents.

The St. Louis area has deployed a system to track emergency victims from the scene of an incident through their transportation to hospitals, while alerting emergency rooms of the names and conditions of incoming patients.

A modern wireless network has replaced a 30-year-old radio system. Paramedics at the scene of an emergency now use handheld devices to record patients' identification, conditions, vital signs, chief injuries or illnesses, and the hospitals to which they are being transported.

The information is embedded in a bar code on a paper bracelet the patient wears and transmitted via a wireless network to the admitting hospital, where it is used to create a medical record for the patient. That gives hospital administrators, emergency managers and other public safety officials a good sense of the nature and scope of disasters and other emergencies.

The Hurricane Katrina disaster in the Gulf Coast region nearly a year ago was the impetus for the St. Louis Area Regional Response System to build the new network, said IBM Public Sector Executive Jane Harbron. Her company partnered with EMSystem of Milwaukee to win the contract. The regional organization is using $2.1 million in federal homeland security funds to pay for the project, she added.

The network has gone live for daily use in the city of St. Louis, and four nearby counties in Missouri and Illinois are using it for large-scale incidents. Three other counties will have access to it for large-scale incidents by the end of October, Harbron said. She added that two suburban counties are considering whether to use the system on a daily basis.

Emergency medical workers chose devices from Symbol Technologies and helped design the pull-down menus, which minimize the need to type or use a stylus. Harbron said the terminals can also scan the bar code information on the backs of Missouri driver's licenses.

EMSystem hosts the application, receiving information from ambulance workers and forwarding it to the hospital where a patient is headed. Another application tracks hospital bed availability across Missouri and meshes with the ambulance activity.

Harbron said the system would decrease response times and speed patient treatment while reducing the amount of paperwork required of emergency medical workers. The system automatically generates the daily activity logs paramedics typically complete at the end of each shift.

Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., are installing similar systems, Harbron said.

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