Analytics could prevent unnecessary helicopter rides for hospitals

Researchers at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University are developing a data analytics platform to help determine whether or not patients need the use of a medical helicopter.

The team, which included the medical director of critical care transport from Cleveland Clinic, built detailed electronic health records of thousands of patients before, during and after being transferred by helicopter from one hospital to another.

This information, which included age, pre-existing illnesses and key vital signs, was fed into the data analytics platform.

The computer algorithm then identified which patients actually need the speed of a helicopter transfer, and those than could either stay put or be transferred by ambulance.

The ongoing work, supported by a $500,000 National Institutes of Health grant, could eventually lead to a broader guide to help establish the range of cases in the middle.

A spate of news stories and a 2017 article in Consumer Reports have highlighted the financial burden unnecessary air ambulance rides can put on patients – and in many cases the lift was uncalled for.

That report also pointed out the risks patients – and medical professionals—take when they get into the helicopter, which statistically are more prone to crashing thanks to pilot error, in many cases under pressure to move quickly.

Of course, air ambulances of the future might not need human pilots at all – and while they aren’t ferrying human subjects to hospitals yet, drones are already being tested out in the field for other tasks.

In March, shipping giant UPS announced it is working with WakeMed in North Carolina to trial a delivery service whereby a quadcopter will fly along a predetermined flight path to deliver blood and other diagnostic specimens.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico is working with AT&T, Merck and others to supply drones for temperature-controlled packaging and to deliver medication to remote villages.

In its case study on medical deliveries in London published in July 2018 by innovation foundation Nesta, the city could save time by flying over the congested roads, providing faster test results, blood products and light equipment.

A year earlier, drones delivering automated external defibrillators reached heart attack victims as much as 17 minutes faster than emergency medical services teams in a small research program conducted in Sweden.

“For true emergencies, it is quicker and better to transport someone by air, but that’s not the majority of the transfers being made,” researcher Andrew Reimer, who was previously a flight nurse, said in a statement.

“There are obvious cases on both ends, but this guide helps us decide on a whole group of patients who are sort of in the middle,” he explained. “This data can help us know ahead of time who will benefit–and who won’t.”

Nathan Eddy is a healthcare and technology freelancer based in Berlin. 

Email the writer: [email protected]

Twitter: @dropdeaded209 

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