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Could One Hospital’s New EMS App Improve Response Times?

Catholic Health System in Western New York has launched new cloud-based technology that works on smartphones and tablets, and boosts communication between emergency medical services personnel and the hospital.

An ambulance on a street with a blurred background to show that it is driving fast.
(TNS) — Catholic Health System calls it a game changer — new technology that it believes could help save lives in Western New York in situations where seconds matter.

The health system’s Mercy Hospital late last month rolled out cloud-based technology that works on smartphones and tablets and boosts communication between emergency medical services personnel and medical providers at the hospital.

The secure system, developed by Montana-based telehealth communications firm Pulsara, provides first responders with consistent two-way communication with emergency physicians, allowing for the transmission of patient data and live video consults before patients even get to the hospital.

Without Pulsara, such communication typically involves multiple phone calls, costing time that is crucial — especially when dealing with stroke and heart patients.

“I have been a paramedic in Western New York EMS for 20 years, and there has always been kind of a struggle to streamline communication between the pre-hospital world and the hospital world,” said Emily James, Catholic Health’s system manager of emergency and neuroscience services.

Efforts to bring Pulsara’s technology to Catholic Health started before the pandemic but were placed on the back burner while Western New York’s second-largest health system, like all hospitals, scrambled to care for Covid-19 patients.

But the pandemic only reinforced the need for such technology, and it took about a year to get it up and running at Mercy Hospital.

How it works

Let’s say EMS responds to a call at a home in Colden, in the southern part of Erie County.

They arrive, evaluate and determine the patient is having a stroke.

As they prepare to transport to Mercy Hospital, the paramedics hop on Pulsara and communicate directly to a doctor, such as Dr. Edward Cosgrove, medical director of Mercy’s emergency department.

The hospital’s neurology team is looped in, too, initiating a case and getting hospital staff prepared to intervene as quickly as possible. And the communication continues while the patient is en route, allowing the neurologist to evaluate and actually see the patient through the app.

“The value of good communication is really critical to the care of these types of patients, principally cardiac emergencies and neurologic emergencies,” Cosgrove said.

“Prior to the availability of this sort of communication tool, if I were the receiving physician and I got a call from the field from an EMS agency, and I got some of the information I needed, but then I had other questions subsequently, my ability to reach back out to the team in the field as they’re coming in was really limited,” he said.

It’s also a big help for the charge nurses, who can plan ahead of time what will happen when the patient arrives: For example, what room to put the patient in, who needs to be in that room and what equipment is needed.

“From a nursing perspective, the charge nurse is managing and juggling many balls,” said Lori Dufresne, system director of emergency and neuroscience services at Catholic Health. “And so to be able to be warned ahead of time and alerted that this is coming in, instead of having them just roll in the door and say, ‘Hey, we’re here,’ it’s very helpful for the charge nurses.”

Officials got a good look at how Pulsara works on the second or third day after it was launched, when two heart attack patients came to Mercy Hospital within seven minutes of one another.

James said both cases were alerted through Pulsara, communicated directly to the interventional cardiologist who was able to immediately pull his team in and, on one platform, discuss things such as which patient was coming to the cardiac catheterization lab first.

Before Pulsara, James said that communication would have consisted of at least three or four phone calls.

“Both of those patients received care faster, because of faster, more streamlined communication,” she said.

What’s next

Ryan Sheedy, coordinator of Erie County’s Medical Emergency Radio System, or MERS, said Catholic Health is the first health system in Erie County to launch Pulsara.

He noted that many area EMS agencies already are using Pulsara, and the county is working with Catholic Health to ensure all EMS providers are using it properly. (Catholic Health said there is no cost for EMS providers to use it.)

In the coming weeks, Catholic Health plans to roll out Pulsara to its other hospitals, including Kenmore Mercy Hospital, Sisters Hospital and Mount St. Mary’s Hospital.

© 2022 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.