Grant yields laptops to rural EMTs

By Cara Miller

Arizona Daily Wildcat

While most rural areas suffer from lack of emergency health care, five emergency medical service areas in rural Arizona will be the first in the state to receive laptop computers in their ambulances.

The computers will be used to collect patient information and make pre-hospital incident reports that will identify the frequency of various services needed in rural areas.

"The system is meant to facilitate the data collection process in rural areas to determine what kind of calls they are seeing and how best to treat them," said Ronald Benoit, project investigator and computer specialist at the medical research center at the UA. "The paper-based methods are not adequate to provide patient care."

The Phoenix-based Flinn Foundation gave the pilot project $278,694 to test the computer system in four or five rural Arizona communities and at least one Indian reservation. Benoit said potential sites must be located more than an hour away from a metropolitan area, and must serve a population of less than 25,000 people.

Santa Cruz county is one of the targeted sites for the project.

"Santa Cruz county is definitely rural," said John Sheeley, chief of the Tubac Fire Department.

Sheeley said the project will make EMS care more readily available and more precise.

"Across the country there has been very little sound, valid, use ful data that has been available from rural areas," he said. "This system could be very beneficial."

Sheeley said the purpose of the project is to insure quality documentation for pre-hospital encounters and trauma patients.

"The emergency medical technician is going to have to address and gather far more information than in the past," he said. "Usually they fill out a form with little squares and boxes that required very little thinking. This is more of a narrative type."

Benoit and Sheeley agree that the only problem facing the project is the fear of technology.

"Change is sometimes difficult to come by," Sheeley said. "It becomes a habit to stay with the old system, but the more they get into the new system, and the more they use the computers, the easier it's going to be."

Benoit said the only thing that could kill the project is the compatibility of the people and the technology.

"Initially it might cause problems, but they just need to be willing to work with it," he said.

The project is also designed to provide continuing medical education viacomputer. Currently, rural EMTs are required to travel to Phoenix or Tucson to take courses. Through this project, EMTs can "download" programs from the Arizona Emergency Medicine Research Center in the College of Medicine.

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