A Hennepin EMS doctor is testing out a new video platform to link 911 callers with emergency physicians.
For emergency medical responders, seconds count in saving lives.
“It’s really about accessibility,” says Nicholas Simpson, the Chief Medical Director with Hennepin EMS. “Because nobody plans to have an emergency.”
“Helps us to just get a lot more information before we get there,” adds Peter Money, a Hennepin EMS paramedic.
Simpson has converted his office, near HCMC, into a communications/dispatch center.
His setup includes extra monitors, computer-aided dispatch equipment, and access to electronic health records.
The gear is being used to test out a new video call platform that connects 911 callers to an emergency physician.
“Someone in the dispatch center… will reach out to them and say, would it be okay if we send you a text message with a link to your cell phone,” Simpson explains. “If they allow that, we send them a text message with a link, they click on it, and then we instantly have a video communication.”
The platform is called ‘GoodSAM’ — a nod to good Samaritan bystanders.
Simpson says he’s used the link to talk face-to-face with up to forty 911 callers since mid-March —information that helps paramedic crews in the field.
A Hennepin Healthcare spokesperson says the facility handles about 250 emergency incidents per day, with busy days as high as 300.
“Historically, all of our dispatchers, they do great work, but they’re limited in the questions they can ask and the way they can ask them, just because all they have is the phone,” Money says. “Now we have a first look that’s several minutes earlier than when I first arrive, which is normally our first look at a patient.”
Because of HIPPA privacy rules — a 5 Eyewitness News crew wasn’t allowed to record any actual patients.
Hennepin staffers agreed to role-play with Simpson to show us how the system works.
After connecting on video, Simpson asked the ‘caller’ a series of questions— but with the benefit of seeing for himself how she was doing.
“Allowing a video communication is one thing that allows us to get to the problem fast,” he notes. “If someone’s short of breath, exactly what they look like, how much they’re working to breathe, how much distress they’re in. Get a lot of information about them.”
Simpson says he recalls one 911 video chat — where the phone was used as a camera to check a young patient.
“There was one child who was having a seizure, and I was able to communicate with the parents and actually see the seizure,” he remembers. “Something we don’t often get the luxury of doing in emergency services, especially in the emergency department.”
Simpson says instead of a dispatcher asking a set list of questions — the video link allows a doctor to pass on crucial visual cues — like a patient’s skin condition — to arriving responders.
“I’m looking at you, and you look like you have normal skin condition. Normal color, you’re not sweaty, but if you were, that would tell me a lot about your medical condition,” Money says. “It works in both directions. It can tell us more about patients that are sick or more about patients that are more stable.”
We asked GoodSAM co-founder and medical director Mark Wilson if he thinks the platform— invented in the U.K., saves lives.
“It saves lives every day, many — many. We know that from around the world,” he says. “You can assess the mechanism of injury, but you can also assess the patient, how sick they look—what their breathing rates are like, what their conscious level is like. All the things that over an ordinary audio call take quite a lot of time to ascertain.”
Wilson says the platform uses an artificial intelligence algorithm to check vital signs.
Heart and respiratory rates — are displayed on the shared video feed.
But Wilson says the skills of human responders are more important.
“I’m keen to emphasize the clinical acumen of the dispatcher or the clinician on the other side of the call are what really makes the difference,” he explains. “Not only can they assess the patient, but also manage the patient remotely, and that’s a massive skill set.”
Wilson says in the U.K., the platform is being used to share information among emergency agencies — including paramedic and air-ambulance crews, who can view the video stream.
“So, we get an idea of what we’re going to do so we can plan our route,” he says. “We can manage major incidents through it, but also between agencies, especially for active shooter incidents.”
San Antonio city officials say they’ve been using GoodSAM for about two years — that it’s being used for about one-third of the area’s 800 daily emergency calls.
A city spokesperson says the fire department has begun using the platform so that firefighters will have a better handle of what they’re dealing with on arrival at a scene.
Simpson says the system can forward video to any other cell phone, including those of medical health professionals.
He says he hasn’t tried that yet — but plans to test the platform for two more months, with the hope that Hennepin Health Care… and possibly City/County will adopt its use.
He believes the system is already making a difference to callers and those in need.
“They can see us, and we can see them,” he says. “Which allows for much higher fidelity information about what’s going on scene.”