New Emory Telehealth EMS program aims to improve rural Georgia emergency care
Woodruff Health Sciences Center | April 20, 2021
Using video technology and high-speed internet connection, the network puts Emory emergency medicine professionals "in the ambulance" across remote parts of Georgia, where patients are often far away from the health care they need.
In 14 rural counties, Georgians who need emergency medical care will have access to Emory doctors and specialists even before they reach a local hospital through a new telehealth initiative.
The Emory Rural Tele-EMS Network (ER-TEMS) will work with the South Georgia division of Grady EMS in cooperation with local rural hospitals. It is being funded with the help of a four-year, $1.2 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
The program kicks off this week in Randolph County, in southwestern Georgia.
“Telehealth hasn’t been used much in the pre-hospital environment. That’s even more true in rural areas, where it has tremendous promise,” says Michael Carr, MD, the network’s project director and an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Emory University’s School of Medicine.
“We know that early intervention saves lives. In rural Georgia, long distances required to reach a hospital contribute to worse medical outcomes in time-sensitive critical conditions like strokes, heart attacks, trauma and complications during childbirth,” Carr says. “This network aims to reduce those disparities.”
Using video technology and high-speed internet connection, the network puts Emory emergency medicine professionals “in the ambulance” across remote parts of Georgia. Residents in those rural areas of the state suffer from high rates of chronic health conditions, placing them at increased risk of medical complications. Yet they are often far from the nearest hospital.
The ambulance crew can call the Emory emergency hub physician when a critical patient is identified or if they need other clinical support. Early diagnosis and intervention are key to improving outcomes in most critical conditions.
The Emory emergency physician will use a video internet hookup to consult with the ambulance crew, helping to evaluate and manage the initial patient care. If needed, the emergency physician, located in Atlanta, can access the vast network of specialty health services at Emory, such as obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics, cardiology or neurology.
EMS personnel can focus their attention on patient care while the Emory emergency provider coordinates with the receiving hospital about the incoming patient’s arrival and any treatment plans that have been initiated.
A key part of the network is the telemedicine interface, which will allow things like EKG readings, vital signs, patient charts and biometric data to be uploaded to a streaming cloud from the inbound ambulance.
The other counties taking part in the network are Baldwin, Ben Hill, Brooks, Clay, Cook, Decatur, Hancock, McIntosh, Mitchell, Pierce, Quitman, Seminole and Worth counties. Emory is working with 18 partner hospitals in those counties and approximately 30 ambulances stationed within these counties.
Carr is medical director of DeKalb County Fire and Rescue, one of the largest fire-based EMS systems in Georgia. Additionally, he is associate medical director for Air Life Georgia, the biggest provider of aeromedical services in the state, and a member of the Emory Department of Emergency Medicine Telehealth Committee.
“The Department of Emergency Medicine at Emory University’s vision is to create new models of acute care that are patient focused and provide more equitable access to quality health care through Emergency Medicine’s innovation center, Health DesignED,” says David Wright, MD, chair, department of emergency medicine at Emory University’s School of Medicine.