Ambulances May Get Virtual Doctors

Monday, December 27th 2004, 10:49 am
By: News On 6

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Researchers are developing technology for ambulances to improve communications and perhaps more importantly, place virtual doctors inside in transit.

Mountains, valleys, bad weather and long distances between hospitals make communication with emergency room physicians spotty at best and nonexistent at worst.

``It always seems to happen when we've got a critical patient and you've really got to talk to a doctor,'' said Jim Effinger, a paramedic with 23 years experience in rural Pennsylvania.

The U.S. Office of Naval Research is funding research for the First Responder Emergency Communications-Mobile with hopes to one day apply it to the battlefield.

The FREC-M uses an international maritime satellite and varying frequencies to bridge communication gaps. It has multiple cameras inside and outside a standard ambulance, which looks like any other, save for several satellite and GPS domes on top.

Aboard the FREC-M, a patient's vital signs and other data are beamed in real-time to the closest trauma center, where doctors can not only instruct paramedics in the field, but also prep a room to treat the critically injured once they arrive.

A single FREC-M costs about $250,000, more than three times the cost of an average ambulance. Mike Shanafelt, a senior adviser on the project, acknowledges that ambulance companies and hospitals are not likely to commit until it is proven in the field.