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National Public Safety Telecommunications Council Asks: How Will EMS and Hospitals Use Telemedicine?

How Will EMS and Hospitals Use Telemedicine?  Today NPSTC releases a comprehensive report on the use of video technology by EMS agencies and the hospitals and trauma centers they interact with. More than 670 public safety personnel responded to a nationwide questionnaire seeking input on how public safety broadband services may impact the clinical and operational environment in EMS.

The EMS Telemedicine Report: Prehospital Use of Video Technologies describes an effort to assess this question. It is based on the results of a comprehensive nationwide questionnaire that provided input from EMS providers, hospital emergency department directors, trauma center directors, EMS medical directors, and online EMS medical control physicians.

EMS telemedicine may include many capabilities, including:


  • Sending of video or pictures of patients, scene environment (e.g., crashed vehicle, home setting), specific injuries, or other physical assessment signs;
  • Two-way video conferencing among field providers, patients, and medical control or consulting staff; and
  • Sending of diagnostic still or video images (e.g., ultrasound, eye/ear/nose/throat scopes), electronic stethoscope sounds, and multi-vital sign monitoring devices).
  • This report examines multiple operational use cases for prehospital telemedicine. This includes the ability to send live video and picture images as well as share stored video clips and images.  While video conferencing and mobile multi-media messaging technology is advancing quickly, there is no consensus in the health care community on how it should be used in the prehospital environment.

    The questionnaire sought feedback on the perceived effectiveness of 11 unique video applications to support EMS as well as how video might be used in five sample patient care scenarios. Results were segmented by respondent group to determine if EMS agencies, physicians, and hospitals shared the same vision for the use of prehospital video or if each group had unique ideas about video implementation. The report concluded that all three groups found common ground in the use of these systems.

    While 77% of all respondents favored the use of EMS telemedicine, this report identifies a number of important issues and barriers that must be addressed. These include the protection of patient privacy, technical considerations for the storage of video files, impact of public records laws, and video use policies which dictate when the camera should be turned on. These issues are similar to those being debated by law enforcement agencies who are also implementing video systems.

    NPSTC is a federation of organizations whose mission is to improve public safety communications and interoperability through collaborative leadership.

    Support provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate, Office for Interoperability and Compatibility, and the National Program and Protection Directorate, Office of Emergency Communications. Points of view or opinions expressed are those of the originators and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.