There’s a beacon on the hill that promises salvation.
As long as the little red light atop the telecommunications tower indicates that the mobile networks are intact, there’s a chance you’ll be able to save your family from the worst fallout of flood waters.
Inside your home, you’re safe. But there’s no way to reach beyond the family’s walls, and you need medical attention. The flood has severed the surrounding roads, but you can seek help over the digital airwaves. Through your smartphone, you can have a face-to-face video conversation with a medical expert and can show them the wounds and let them hear the rasping coughs. From their virtual end, they can tell you where pressure needs to be applied and what soon-to-be airlifted antibiotics need to be ingested.
These are the possibilities of telehealth emergency medicine, and this potentially life-saving scenario is being played out today.
Telehealth Emergency Medicine in Action
Telehealth emergency medicine interventions, such as the one outlined above, have already been brought to bear on large-scale, real-life events. In March of this year, the Australian Federal Government made telehealth medical options available to 24,000 people in more than a dozen rural towns devastated by flooding in the country’s north. For the subsidized cost of a visit to a family doctor, medical services otherwise unavailable to flood-affected areas were streamed over the internet.
The emergencies covered by telehealth don’t end at unique major weather events either.
The result was emergency medicine by proxy. Virtual primary care physicians unable to apply their healing touch to flood victims were able to view their patients over a video connection and instruct those on the ground on how to provide treatment. The service provided help for people with existing conditions as well as those with health problems caused by the flooding. This scenario still requires the physical delivery of medications and medical supplies, but it is a lot easier to deliver bandages and antibiotics by airlift or boat than it is to deliver doctors.
The emergencies covered by telehealth don’t end at unique major weather events either. They can be delivered regularly through local emergency services.
The Rise of Telehealth Ambulances and 911 Services
The streets of Manchester, New Hampshire are already being patrolled by telehealth-equipped ambulances. The fleet is connected via video conferencing tablets to neurologists in the town’s hospitals. This connection gives experts in stroke care, for instance, a head-start on patient treatment for a condition that is highly time-sensitive.
Elsewhere, Israel has pioneered the use of video calls across its 911 response system. A video calling app provides emergency responders with a contextual view of not only the patient, victim, or potential perpetrator, but also the surrounding area, weather conditions, and other difficult-to-describe elements.
Telehealth links give patients critical extra minutes.
The famed Mayo Clinic has also embraced telehealth in the field of critical care. It has developed a network of video-linked ICUs across half a dozen healthcare facilities that allow a central team of experts to monitor acute care patients in real-time.
In each instance, telehealth links give patients critical extra minutes. They do this by allowing emergency care providers to instruct callers on basic first aid and other steps they can take until responders arrive, but they also provide responders with a view of the emergency so they can arrive completely prepared to deal with the situation that awaits them. Video conferencing is a medical force multiplier that has the potential to radically enhance the impact, reach, and efficiency of expert medical minds.
Making Telehealth Emergency Medicine Available to All
As our melodramatic opening demonstrated, the key to delivering telehealth emergency medicine is network infrastructure. As long as broadband cables and mobile network transponders are available, so, too, is a face-to-face conversation with a medical expert–potentially a medical expert from any necessary field. In New Mexico, for example, there’s a comprehensive network of medical specialists available through telehealth clinics to help local primary care physicians in rural and remote areas treat patients with conditions beyond a generalist’s purview. All that’s required is that the local doctor has access to a functioning video link, a quality webcam or video conferencing room system, and a video conferencing platform.
In theory, it should be possible to set up video-empowered emergency response teams across the country.
All those items are affordable, accessible, and an increasingly popular part of everyday social and business life. To put them to work as the tools of an official telehealth emergency network is just a matter of organization. In theory, it should be possible to set up video-empowered emergency response teams across the country–it’s just a matter of finding a HIPAA-compliant video conferencing service and training the necessary medical minds on how to react to a video call emergency.
With the use of satellite-powered video phones–such as have existed since the early days of live news feeds–we could even develop a telehealth emergency medicine strike team, capable of airdropping medications and the devices needed to explain and empower their use into areas in need.
Each of us has within our pocket a potential connection to any video emergency responder we might ever need–as long as those little telecommunications beacons keep shining–so let’s make use of them.