System Profile: San Diego Medical Services Enterprise - Administration and Leadership - @

System Profile: San Diego Medical Services Enterprise

Homegrown solution in action across the nation



John Pringle | From the Going Electronic Issue

San Diego has successfully used smart powerful devices and software in EMS for a decade, and soon that success will be available for users everywhere.

San Diego’s EMS is responsible for the 9-1-1 medical care of 1.3 million citizens. This service is provided by San Diego Medical Services Enterprise (SDMSE), a highly successful public-private partnership between the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD) and Rural/Metro Corporation.

Until 1999, we recorded all patient information on paper Scantron "bubble" forms, which often were lost, incomplete or illegible. The missing information added up to millions of dollars of uncollected billing revenue and hundreds of work hours tracking down frustrated personnel for lost paperwork. We needed a more accurate, efficient and dependable method of collecting and transmitting patient information between EMS, hospitals and the billing office. TapChart was developed to meet these needs.

One of the most unique aspects of the system is that it was developed by one of the department’s own: San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD) firefighter/paramedic Greg George saw the need and designed and programmed the software now used throughout the city and other EMS agencies in the county.

With more than 70,000 records created annually, TapChart has made San Diego safer for its residents and visitors. It prompts emergency responders to ask detailed follow-up questions that might otherwise be overlooked and has a built-in database of medications for field reference. Also, the city has annually gained thousands of extra hours of paramedic ambulance availability that were previously lost on time-consuming paperwork. Having more ambulances available for responses means faster response times, which means potentially better outcomes for patients.

A key feature of TapChart is the ability to create a continuous record of patient information. Instead of passing along handwritten notes, firefighters now wirelessly transfer patient assessment and treatment information to ambulance paramedics, who in turn provide a legible copy to the hospital emergency department (ED). This report is significantly more detailed and useful to ED physicians.

As with any new technology, there was a learning curve to TapChart. We found that the majority of field personnel were comfortable using it within hours of training. However, the most vocal critics of TapChart during the initial deployment are now its strongest advocates. Also, newly recruited paramedics have reported that such high-tech tools as TapChart influenced their decision to seek employment with SDMSE.

For years, SDMSE has wanted to share the local success of TapChart with other EMS systems. SDMSE recently partnered with ImageTrend to redevelop and deliver TapChart to the EMS marketplace.

"Introducing technology into a job that has life-or-death risk. If it’s not done right, is a recipe for disaster," says Roger Fisher, SDFD administrative manager and the original flight paramedic who a decade ago wondered if these new PDA devices could have an application in EMS. "You don’t wave your hand and say ‘Here’s this tool—use it.’ A lot of vendors come in and say this. Just because you have neat gadgets and toys doesn’t necessarily mean they have a place in public safety. TapChart was designed to be used as a tool to put in public safety’s hands that leads to better documentation and better patient care."

Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: Administration and Leadership, Communications and Dispatch, Technology, Operations and Protcols


John PringleJohn Pringle is a paramedic/firefighter and program leader of Mobile Electronic Documentation for the City of San Diego Fire/Rescue Department.


What's Your Take? Comment Now ...

Buyer's Guide Featured Companies

Featured Careers & Jobs in EMS

Get JEMS in Your Inbox


Fire EMS Blogs

Blogger Browser

Today's Featured Posts


EMS Airway Clinic

Improving Survival from Cardiac Arrest Using ACD-CPR + ITD

Using active compression-decompression CPR with an ITD has been shown to improve 1-year survival from cardiac arrest by 33%.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Three Injured in Philadelphia Collapse

Parapet wall falls through roof of store.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

California Firefighters save Man on Flight

Patient was conscious and talking when United flight landed.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Over Half of Seattle Fire Stations Test Positive for MRSA

Surprisingly high results come from test kits based on earlier study.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Hands On February 2015

Here’s a look at this month’s product hands on.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Nightwatch Series Premiere Party

JEMS Editor-in-Chief A.J. Heightman attends the series premiere of A&E's new reality show, "Nightwatch."
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Ottawa Chemical Investigation

Chemicals and suspicious package are probed at two locations
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Braun Ambulances' EZ Door Forward

Helps to create a safer ambulance module.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

LMA MAD Nasal™

Needle-free intranasal drug delivery.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Field Bridge Xpress ePCR on iPad, Android, Kindle Fire

Sneak peek of customizable run forms & more.
Watch It >

More Product Videos >