Budget cuts in Tucson, Ariz., are withering the real-time videoconferencing capabilities connecting a city-run ambulance service and area hospital emergency rooms.
Tucson telemed project suffers budget cuts
Maybe five or six of what had been 17 video-equipped ambulances remain operational, according to Tucson Fire Department Assistant Chief Dave Ridings, who is in charge of emergency services for the city with a population of roughly 500,000. But budget cuts have forced the layoffs of firefighters as well as the technicians who kept the video systems in the ambulances running, he said.
In 2006, Tucson leveraged a 50/50 grant from the U.S. Transportation Department to add wireless EMS video, voice and data transmission capabilities to a wireless and fiber-optic network that controls the city's traffic light control system. The combined funding was about $3.7 million, according to Ridings.
While coverage is somewhat spotty in the outlying areas of the city where traffic signals are fewer and farther between, where there is connectivity, the quality of video images transmitted from the ambulances is excellent, and when there are sufficient access points, "we could keep the film running from the scene to the hospital," Ridings said.
The city still connects fire trucks and ambulances through the same grid for data transmissions, so ambulances in motion can send patient-care reports to hospital emergency departments while en route, Ridings said.
"We can get to the trauma center from anywhere in town in 30 minutes," Ridings said, "Using the system for patient-care reports is more important than the video. To have video was more of a nice-to-have than a need-to-have."
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