N.S. turns ambulances into hotspots

Nova Scotia’s Emergency Health Services division has turned its ground ambulance fleet into roaming mobile hotspots easily integrated with the province’s electronic patient record system. But according to New Westminster, B.C.-based In Motion Technology Inc., the vendor behind the Nova Scotia initiative, its platform should set the groundwork for mobile networking technologies in every sector.

The EHS is a division of the Nova Scotia’s Department of Health and is responsible for pre-hospital emergency services throughout the province. Last year, it partnered with In Motion to deploy the company’s onBoard Mobile Gateway systems in hundreds of EHS vehicles.

“The significant driver of this was the implementation of an electronic patient care record program about a year and a half ago,” said Tim P. Coolen, vice-president of shared services at Medavie EMS Inc., which owns the operating company (Emergency Medical Care Inc.) that manages the EHS system for the Nova Scotia’s Department of Health.

The EHS needed to be able to give paramedics the ability to input patient information during a call and send that information back to the hospital as they are travelling back to the emergency room.

According to In Motion, the gateway creates a “vehicle area network” that allows emergency or police vehicles to connect a wide range of devices back to their central branch offices. Because running VPN security software on data being sent via Bluetooth to a heart monitor is not possible, said In Motion’s vice-president of sales and marketing Tony Morris, the company uses VPN technology to secure and encrypt data before it’s transmitted at the gateway.

In conjunction with the In Motion’s gateway, EHS uses TriTech Software Systems’ VisiNet Mobile fleet application to extend its computer-aided dispatch system to in-vehicle laptops. GPS information is monitored by EHS staff and the onBoard Mobility Manager allows ground operations to keep track of ambulance locations and on-board equipment.

“Previously the only information coming from the medical communications centre was via radio transmission,” Coolen said. “Now ambulances receive accurate information they can view on their laptops and new information as it comes in.”

Sending information and collaborating with doctors back at the hospital has also helped to speed along EHS’ program for Thrombolytic drugs distribution — a clot busting medicine used to limit the damage caused by a blockage in a blood vessel.

“This allows the paramedics to get oversight from the responding physician and administer the drug in the field,” he said. “For people with a heart condition in rural areas of Nova Scotia, this will limit the further damage to the heart while they await arrival at a hospital.”

And even though this type of technology only seems suited to medical, police and public transportation services, for Morris, the future of mobile networking technologies in general will rest with the solutions that leverage multiple wireless standards. Wi-Fi, WiMAX, Bluetooth, and all the other wireless protocols that arise in the future should be extracted from the end-user, he added.

“So for example in the EMS world, you don’t want a paramedic to say ‘before I take this reading of the guy having a heart attack, I should be think about which network I’m on and switch to the right one,’” Morris said.

The In Motion device automatically selects the best available wireless network and roams across commercial cellular, 3G and municipal Wi-Fi networks.

“If a police deployment is collecting a lot of high-resolution evidentiary video, one of the things you don’t want to do is try and move 15GB of footage over a cellular network,” Morris said. “What we do is actually managed it so the video is collected as soon as you come into Wi-Fi coverage.”

Direct Ethernet and Bluetooth connectivity is also supported, with WiMAX capabilities expected later this year.

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