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Mobile Video Improves Paramedic Response

Photonics Spectra
May 2000
Daniel S. Burgess

An ambulance service in the UK recently found that 40 percent of calls for an ambulance were unnecessary, which strained its resources and wasted taxpayer money. In response, the Surrey Ambulance Service National Health Service Trust created a corps of motorcycle paramedics to assess accident scenes before an ambulance is dispatched. Its search for a more effective solution led it to systems integrator ERA Technology Ltd., which produced a mobile multimedia system that provides real-time video of the situation for the control room staff and still images for hospital personnel.

"The paramedic wears the camera together with a belt PC to transmit pictures from the incident scene back to ambulance control," explained John Hobday, senior consultant at ERA Technology. "The system is started when the paramedic is dispatched and operates hands-free, relaying back 'real-time' moving video at two to three frames per second." The video stream, which is transmitted on a digital mobile phone signal, enables the control room to guide paramedics to the accident and monitor their progress.

At the scene, the paramedics take images of accident victims and their surroundings. The supervisor at the ambulance control room interprets the video feed and determines if an ambulance is necessary. The control room also can request that the paramedics take high-resolution still images of the victims and the vehicles for the hospital. Hobday noted that the damage to vehicles in an accident can be as informative to emergency room staff as symptoms of injury when they prepare treatment for an incoming patient.

On the scene of an accident, a motorcycle paramedic transmits real-time images to the emergency dispatch control room, which determines if an ambulance is needed and forwards digital still images to the local hospital's emergency room. Courtesy of ERA Technology Ltd.

ERA Technology built and integrated the system from off-the-shelf parts and its communications software. As the center of the system, it selected an AVC-554 camera from AV Tech Corp., which it purchased from a vendor in London. "We took along the other equipment and tried several cameras until we found the one which was rugged and had a suitable focal length, with no operator intervention, and could run off batteries for a reasonable length of time," said Hobday. The 1/4-in. CCD camera has a resolution of 330 TV lines and a 1/50- to 1/80,000-s electronic shutter in a compact, 36 x 36 x 15-mm package.

The system could use improvement, Hobday said. The paramedics now wear the camera on their jackets rather than on their helmets. He explained that "better bedside manner" dictates that paramedics remove their helmets when they treat an injury. The jacket-mount requires that paramedics use a viewfinder to center the camera on an object of interest, preventing them from applying treatment as they take images. "A camera mounted on spectacles would provide a better solution," he said.

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