FDNY EMTs Claim New Technology is Slowing Ambulance Response Times

Tablet troubles complicate patient information and the in-service process


DANIEL PRENDERGAST and GEORGETT ROBERTS, The New York Post | | Thursday, July 18, 2013

A move to modernize city ambulance records has become a technical nightmare for city EMTs, who told The Post the system is leading to delays and slower response times.

The new tablet-computer-based system for recording ­ambulance calls has been hampered because the devices often freeze up and can't send information when a Wi-Fi signal is unavailable, sources said.

"It's a very weak wireless system, but the city got what they paid for," groused one technician. "They were too cheap to pay for a stronger system."

Instead of recording vital information about each "aided" case on paper, EMS technicians are required to enter data on the tablet. A wireless router is attached to the EMS truck and provides the Wi-Fi signal.

But when a signal can't be found, or is weak, the ambulance crews struggle to submit the data, which is mandatory before heading off for new emergency calls.

"It's like a cellphone," an EMS source said. "Sometimes you lose your signal, and when that happens, you lose your information."

One EMT recalled how he and his partner ran into tablet trouble after taking a patient suffering chest pains to Jamaica Hospital this week.

They could not move to the next call before his information was in the tablet - but the gadget was not cooperating.

"My partner was working in the ER attempting to put the info into the tablet and he lost the signal. He had to go back and re- ­enter the info into the tablet.

"That's why we were extended. It delayed us big time. It took us 40 minutes from the time we got there to the time we left," he said.

EMTs are expected to have the patient-information process completed in 20 to 25 minutes, he said.

The switch to the rugged five-pound tablets - manufactured by DRS Technologies - was announced in March and introduced at different times around the city.

Queens EMS units began using the tablets on July 8, but they had been introduced earlier - and drew complaints - in Brooklyn and on Staten Island.

The Brooklyn EMS units said the tablets have no keypads, so information has to be entered with a stylus one letter at a time, causing further delays.

An FDNY spokeswoman called the complaints unfounded.

"The technology has not had any negative impact on response time or patient care," she said.

But EMTs say the inability to finish assignments as quickly as in the paper-era past has had a ripple effect that has led to a series of 911 callers waiting for an ambulance.

One technician cited yesterday's front-page news about a City Council intern who fainted at a press conference and had to wait more than 30 minutes for help, even with council Speaker Christine Quinn intervening.

City officials said the delay was caused in part by a high volume of 911 callers in the same area of Brooklyn at the same time.

"I can almost guarantee that the crews yesterday were backed up due to this tablet and this weak Wi-Fi signal. They were probably extended in the ER trying to solve tablet issues," an EMT said.

The FDNY doesn't claim the new system is working perfectly.

Asked by The Post if EMTs have experienced "issues" with the tablets, the department spokeswoman said:

"There have been issues involving connectivity as there is with any wireless Internet network. However, personnel are able to complete and save the ­information independently of its transmission."

One EMT complained that the delays have led to a negative perception by the public.

"We're looking very bad in the eyes of the city. I want people to know what the real issues are," he said.

The Fire Department is "not being very truthful," he added. "They're letting EMS take a hit by saying that there were no ­ambulances available."

"Yeah, it can get busy in the summer. But they never mention the flaws with this new system," he said. "EMS has taken a black eye over the last few months. "EMS is like the bald-headed stepchild of the FDNY."

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