‘Another set of eyes’ in the ambulance

Murray County Ambulance starts telemedicine pilot program

Murray County Ambulance crew members gathered around as presenter Jake Sheffield explained the features of a new telemedicine service for emergency responders. The Avel eCare EMS system lets responders talk to emergency physicians, nurses and paramedics through an iPad mounted in the back of the ambulance. The system is being used across South Dakota, and Murray County is now the first Minnesota ambulance service to use it.

SLAYTON — In a medical emergency, being able to have an extra set of eyes on the patient can make a big difference, Murray County Ambulance crew members said. Now, thanks to telemedicine technology, emergency medical responders will be able to get that help right in the ambulance.

“It’s one more piece we can utilize to help our communities,” said Jennifer Kirchner, EMS director at the Murray County Ambulance service.

For the next three years, Murray County Ambulance will be part of a pilot program using telemedicine equipment in one of their ambulances. Responders will be able to call and consult with emergency physicians, nurses and medics through an iPad mounted in the back of the ambulance.

On Tuesday night, Murray County EMS responders attended a training session to learn how to use the new equipment.

Murray County Ambulance will be using Avel eCare, the same telemedicine service currently used by ambulances across the state of South Dakota, said Ann Jenson, executive director of Southwest Minnesota EMS. The partnership with South Dakota ambulances was part of a $1.7 million EMS initiative approved by the South Dakota Legislature and Gov. Kristi Noem last year.

Jenson said Murray County is the first Minnesota ambulance service to use Avel eCare.

“We are so excited about this,” Jenson said.

Jenson said Avel had reached out to Southwest Minnesota EMS earlier this year about possibly partnering with ambulance services in the organization’s 18-county region. Using grant funds, Southwest Minnesota EMS established a pilot program with Murray County Ambulance.

Murray County Ambulance provides basic life support (BLS) services, and responds to more than 450 calls a year, Jenson said. “They’re a very busy BLS service,” she said.

The cost of the pilot program will be about $25,000 to $27,000 a year, Jenson said.

On Tuesday, Murray County EMS responders crowded into an ambulance and watched as Kirchner put in a phone call to Avel. Within seconds, Avel eCare team members appeared on the iPad screen, and spoke with the group through a speaker system in the ambulance.

Avel representatives said they have a team of about 20 board-certified physicians and more than 35 nurses and paramedics available to consult with ambulance crews. The Avel team are available 24 hours a day to help answer questions and consult on a wide range of topics, from medications and poison control to trauma care.

Murray County Ambulance members were looking forward to having a new resource to help patients.

“It’s super exciting,” said EMT Danelle Thovson.

Kirchner said she could think of situations where having advice from a consultant would be a great resource. She used the example of a trauma call, where she was trying to think of options to stop an injured patient’s bleeding.

“There’s times you’re going to forget things in the heat of the moment,” agreed EMT Rick Like. Like said an expert consultant could give advice on things a responder might have missed. “Having another set of eyes and ears, I think it’s going to be valuable.”

Having the ability to call in to a doctor or nurse would mean ambulance patients could get a higher level of care before they even reach a hospital, Jenson said.

Jenson said she also hoped that having the added support of telemedicine services would give responders a greater comfort level, and encourage people to serve as EMS responders.

Kirchner said she hoped the pilot program could help increase support for emergency medical services in Minnesota.

“I hope this kind of pushes the Minnesota Legislature to use funding for all the rural (ambulance) services,” she said.


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