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Mobile Tech Links Trauma Surgeons with SWAT Teams

The test program equips SWAT officers with computers and cameras so when out in the field, trauma surgeons can help them respond to critical injuries.

by / May 21, 2013

In high-risk incidents involving weapons, serious injuries or casualties, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams are often the first to respond to the scene.

Through a program developed in Palm Bay, Fla., the police department and the Trauma Center at Health First/Holmes Regional Medical Center in nearby Melbourne, Fla., partnered to test tactical telemedicine (Tac-Tel). When SWAT officers are sent into high-risk situations involving trauma injuries, they can use technology to communicate virtually with trauma surgeons in the event they are the first to respond.

The Tac-Tel partnership includes firefighter-paramedics who train with the SWAT officers.
By sending SWAT officers into the field with a laptop or mobile device like an iPad or iPhone, and a webcam, they can connect with the trauma center's secure servers using an encrypted wireless connection. Peter Pappas, a trauma surgeon heading the Tac-Tel project, explained that if a victim is critically injured, trauma surgeons can get a faster look and give assistance to the tactical team before the victim is taken to the trauma center for treatment.

“We’re going to be able to see this patient literally within minutes after the injury has occurred,” Pappas said. “And the knowledge we can gain from that, that sort of first look at the patient, it can be crucial in terms of helping us better prepare for this patient on arrival.”

The program got its start a few years ago, when Pappas – a trauma and acute care surgeon at Holmes Regional Medical Center – met with Palm Bay Chief of Police Douglas Muldoon to discuss technology use in telemedicine. Testing of the Tac-Tel program began in 2011, and full implementation is expected soon.

Muldoon said when firefighter-paramedics and SWAT officers are out in the field during dangerous situations, the connectivity back to the trauma center can provide more peace of mind from a safety standpoint. After all, law enforcement personnel responding to high-risk situations have many other factors to think about when arriving at the scene.

“You already have on your mind all the other things from a safety perspective – the equipment you have to use, the vehicles, weapons, the whole nine yards,” Muldoon said. “And then the fact that you’re relying on as much intelligence to make informed decisions on how you deploy the officers, what kind of tactics do you use?”

Muldoon said responders are also focused on how to engage the person responsible for causing the dangerous incident, so giving the trauma surgeons a look at the scene and injuries in real time is crucial for assisting with the response.

“It also is there ultimately to give us an opportunity as a trauma center to have a first look at a casualty, to render any expertise as needed,” Pappas said. “But above all else to expand the team and to help keep even if it is just a virtual finger on the patient’s pulse.”

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Sarah Rich

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. She wrote for for Government Technology magazine from 2010 through 2013.

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