Santa Barbara County is implementing an electronic patient care record system to make emergency medical services more efficient and effective.
Santa Barbara County Fire and the Emergency Medical Services Agency are setting up the new system with tablet devices in every first responder vehicle and training for firefighters, paramedics and hospitals.
The Panasonic Toughpads have touch screens and use a Windows 8 platform with ImageTrend, the patient record system. Every fire agency in the county will use the same device, as will the County Fire helicopter — which often responds to rescue calls — and every American Medical Response ambulance.
“One of the things health-care providers in hospitals are wanting is better information about what’s going on in the field,” EMS Director Nancy Lapolla said. “Instead of the verbal hand-off in the emergency room, this system will give them a heads-up so they have a better idea of what’s coming in.”
All information entered on the tablet devices will get posted wirelessly so every level of responder — firefighters, paramedics and hospital staff — has information about what care has already been given to the patient.
Fire Chief Michael Dyer said cellular and WiFi connectivity throughout the county is an issue, but firefighters and paramedics can update the information and it will get posted once they drive back into a coverage zone. Now, firefighters don’t enter patient data until they get back to a station and type into the desktop computer, he added. They usually have information written on little scraps of paper, their gloves, arms or whatever else they have nearby.
Reporting duties will get handed off agency-to-agency just as the patient is, so there is one seamless record per patient — something the county has never done, Lapolla said.
The current system is fragmented and not meeting the county’s needs, EMS Deputy Director John Eaglesham said, adding that having more data will help the county analyze patient outcomes.
EMS officials hope the new records will help them analyze emergency medical response, see what critical skills they need to focus on and improve patient outcomes.
Low-frequency, high-risk patients are always a challenge since first responders see them so rarely but need so much skill to care for them, Dyer said.
“We’re very excited, as you can tell,” Lapolla said. “It’s been a long time coming.”
She called it “the birth of our baby,” since the county is planning to implement the entire system in just nine months, with the first people trained in June.
The devices cost about $2,400 each, and County Fire was able to buy them for every fire agency with a Homeland Security grant. The PC platform is an industry standard, and the devices had to hold up to heat and rugged conditions, Dyer said. AMR bought the devices on its own.
ImageTrend, the patient record system on the devices, is already used by several California counties, including Ventura County, which shares an Emergency Medical Services Agency medical director with Santa Barbara County.
Dr. Angelo Salvucci helped Santa Barbara implement the system after Ventura did. These Toughpads have all the county’s procedures — including what drugs they use and personnel on duty for each station by shift — programmed in.
“We don’t want to lose focus of what our mission is, and that’s to take care of patients, but documentation is a critical part of what we do to take care of patients,” Lapolla said. “First responders are critical in what they saw then they got there, vitals — that really helps the next layer of response better understand what they need to do.”
Eventually, County Fire wants to use these tablets as the only device in the engines and trucks, with computer-aided dispatch, mapping and patient records all in one, Fire Division Chief Ray Navarro said.
He said the county’s staying ahead of electronic health record requirements that came with health-care reform.
Arson investigator Jason Snodgrass said fire investigators are already using the tablets for inspections and mapping.