Is the Emergency 3G Video Calling opportunity in Ambulances or with Citizens?

Vodafone’s Global mHealth website has released details on how the telco’s Romanian subsidiary has provisioned 100 of SMURD’s emergency medical ambulances across 73 cities and 26 counties with a mobile “video-based telemedicine solution”.

The solution builds on a successful system that transmits “medical parameters to hospital’ A&E departments ahead of arrival” and now enables “paramedics to transmit video images of patients alongside the medical parameters” using “Vodafone’s high speed mobile data services”.

Romanian news sources reveal that so far Vodafone Romania have provided equipment worth €270,000 to SMURD and when you consider the good PR this is generating for Vodafone alongside their plans to refarm their 900MHz 2G network this looks like a very financially smart bit of CSR – especially if you appreciate the deadlock that other operators have faced as they failed to communicate a societal benefit behind this transition.

Watching reading the Vodafone press release and watching the commercial I’m left with a few thoughts:

1) Location, Location, Location

I’m amazed that the approach taken here is to fix the video functionality into the vehicles rather than to the EMT’s or lay citizens. In many instances you’d find the benefit of another experts eyes are going to be advantageous when there are decisions being made outside the ambulance eg. is this situation dangerous? Is that a wire going to still be live? is it best to move now or wait for cutting equipment? etc, etc.

The way I see it if the paramedics don’t know how to use the equipment in the vehicle or how to explain this accurately over a voice call you have a staff training issue.

2) Legal implications

I can imagine the presence of video recordings are going to be placing a lot more pressure on front line staff. Can you do your job? Did you do it 100% right?

I wonder if patients are going to be given the right to the video recording of their rescue? I wonder if they’ll have rights to sue SMURD if they later decide that correct procedure wasn’t followed?

3) Network issues

I’m always amazed at how poorly 3G Video Calls hand over to the next cell. There are bigger challenges than 2G not least because of the need to keep a voice and synchronous visual transmission going but also because of the smaller size of the cells used for 3G. In the event that they are trying to broadcast from the Helicopter shown in the commercial they are also going to meet with a host of new challenges as the smart 3G antennas aren’t designed to be signalling into the air.

The Air Ambulance use case is also interesting because it suggests that Romanian CAA have approved this mobile system for in-flight use. Must find out more info on this…

4) Noise Interference

While I recognise that a lot of work is carried out to stabilise a patient before an ambulance moves, everytime I’ve been in an ambulance it’s been very noisy (you’re in the back of a diesel van and there are sirens blaring) so I’m not totally convinced of the additional value a video link will provide. I guess in the Air Ambulance situation the impact of noise is going to have a much bigger bearing on the quality of the 3G Video broadcast.

5) Citizen or professional technology?

I’m always surprised that healthcare indsutry developments like this continue to overlook the potential of the technology that is already in the hands and pockets of citizens.

Certainly from Vodafones perspective (selling ever more smartphone handsets and 3G connections) it would be better to leverage this first eg. provide video terminals to the dispatchers at SMURD so they can accept 3G Video Calls from citizens requesting assistance, enable patients to identify themselves (using caller ID etc) so that their cloud based records can be shared with emergency operators and the ambulance staff whenever they make a call to emergency services, etc.

From any ambulance provider’s perspective the opportunities arising from a better connection to their callers is obvious eg. accurately determining priorities and dispatch requirements – something that’s highlighted in this BBC News feature on London Ambulance’s “use us wisely” campaign (note the bit where it says that 1 in 4 calls are for non emergencies):

About David Doherty
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