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Connected Ambulances: The Future of Healthcare

Adrian Smith
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This blog is the second in a series of four short articles that explore innovation in healthcare. Click here to read the first post.

“Ambulances are not taxis to A&E” concluded Lord Carter in a 2018 review into the NHS. “Modern technology means that patients can often be treated at the scene.”

Yet over half of ambulance callouts result in a trip to the hospital. The default response for ambulance services is often to drive to the nearest hospital offering the widest range of treatments giving the patient the best chance of survival. However, oftentimes patients need not visit a hospital or would be better off visiting a specialist immediately rather than travelling to one later after being redirected.

With the risk of infection, long waiting times and capacity pressures, hospitals can sometimes not be the best places for patients anyway.

To improve the quality of care provided and reduce mortality rates, we need to administer care outside of hospitals. One way to do that is to improve the capabilities of ambulances through connectivity.

Connectivity

An ambulance equipped with telemedical devices that allow the ambulance crew to effectively diagnose or treat a patient at the scene has the ability to vastly improve the National Health Service.

Consider a suspected stroke patient.

An ambulance crew is called to the scene. Time is of the essence; the quicker a stroke victim receives appropriate care, the better their chances of recovery. Traditionally, the crew would carry out tests to determine whether the patient has had a stroke or not. If signs are pointing towards a suspected stroke, the patient is transported to the nearest hospital with an ECG machine or stroke specialist to receive care.

After arriving at the hospital, the ECG results determine that the patient has not had a stroke, but instead is suffering from low-blood sugar. The symptoms are similar, but the treatments vary significantly, with low-blood sugar being easier to treat at the scene without the need for a trip to the hospital. But it is only at the hospital that this is discovered, taking up valuable time and resources.

Suppose now the ambulance is fitted with 4G, 5G and satellite communications and can secure a resilient and robust connection to a hospital, almost anywhere. With this, the ambulance crew can equip themselves with a remote ECG machine that communicates directly with doctors at the hospital or stroke unit, transmitting results in real-time. After receiving the results, the doctors can tell whether the patient has had a stroke or not and advise on the most suitable course of action. In this instance, the patient has not had a stroke and therefore does not need to be treated as a stroke patient. The ambulance crew do not need to visit a hospital and are able to administer the care needed at the scene.

Time, resources, and lives can be saved if ambulances are better connected.

How do we achieve this?

To test out the remote ECG machine, healthcare providers need a connected ambulance. But fitting an ambulance with the necessary connectivity is expensive; if the equipment is unsuitable, the process can be costly.

The Healthy Living Lab at Westcott de-risks this process by providing a range of connected vehicles that allow healthcare providers to test technology in a real-world environment. The Living Lab co-creates with SMEs to deliver cutting-edge tech solutions, tested in situ, to ensure the product works and can be utilised by the health system.

For ambulance trusts, the Living Lab is a space to utilise a connected ambulance or rapid response vehicle using a range of connectivity – 4G, 5G, and satellite – to test the strength of the connection (either in isolation or testing a range of networks) to find out which is most suitable before having to fit their own ambulances.

For support throughout your technology journey towards a more connected healthcare system, please visit https://sa.catapult.org.uk/living-lab/