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When it comes to treating someone who may be having a heart attack, minutes mean everything.
Now, there's a small black machine - a 12-lead electrocardiograph - that can shave 20 minutes or more off the time it could take for medical professionals to diagnose a heart attack.
All emergency medical systems in Anderson, Abbeville, Oconee and Pickens counties, including the Clemson University Fire and Emergency Medical Services, are applying for a grant that would put one of those machines in every one of their ambulances.
With the machines, paramedics and emergency medical technicians could determine with more accuracy whether someone was having a heart attack, said Medshore Ambulance Service owner Greg Shore.
Then they could send the patient's heart readings to the emergency room and a doctor on duty via Bluetooth.
"Right now, we average 67 minutes from the door to the balloon, and that's without this," said AnMed Health's Director of Clinical Outcomes Leigh Miller. "With this machine, we are talking about speeding the process up by 20 minutes."
The machines also check patients' oxygen concentration in their blood and their blood pressure. Wayne Garland, the director of Oconee Medical Center's Emergency Medical Services, said having the new machines would also help the emergency medical services meet upcoming state requirements.
And it would bring every system in the region to the same level, also helping move to electronic reporting on each patient.
"It would be a huge boost for us," Garland said. "We would be able to send information directly to the emergency room. And we could send patients directly to Greenville from the field instead of taking them to Oconee County and then transferring them to Greenville later."
Medshore Ambulance Service has one of the $30,000 machines already, Shore said. He said the ambulance service's paramedics and emergency medical technicians have already started learning how to use the equipment.
Right now, some ambulances in the area have three-lead EKG machines, which help emergency medical personnel determine whether a patient is having an irregular heartbeat. But they do not help show why the heartbeat is irregular, and that leaves one more step that doctors must do once the patient reaches the emergency room.
The goal is to put such an advanced EKG machine in every ambulance in this region with the help of money from a federal grant for firefighters' assistance.
A portion of the money allocated to the firefighters' assistance program must be spent on upgrading emergency medical services equipment. The application will be filed in October, said Anderson County Emergency Services Division Director Taylor Jones.
More than $1 million has been requested by the Upstate agencies, Jones said.
The idea for applying as a region came from knowing that such a regional grant application worked just last year, and from knowing the communities' needs. Jones said the local agencies banded together in 2008 and asked for money to pay for 800-megahertz radios for area fire departments. In the end, they received $735,000 for radios for fire departments across the Upstate.
The application process has also been a good experience because it has pulled all the emergency medical services in the region together for the first time in at least 25 years, Garland said.
"We are just pleased to be able to sit down together and work for a common goal," Garland said.
Miller, at AnMed, and Shore said applying for the new machines is also a way of responding to the community's needs.
"The Upstate used to be a mecca of heart disease," Miller said. "This will have a major impact on the quality of care given and ultimately, it will save lives," Shore added.