Smartphone proves to be a useful tool for teletrauma program

A pilot effort integrating smartphones into a Arizona medical facility's telemedicine program allowed trauma doctors to perform more teletrauma consultations in five months than a preceding two-year period and provided quicker and expanded access to specialists.

The beta effort involved the trauma and acute care divisions at University of Arizona Medical Center (UAMC) in Tucson and a rural health hospital. The two facilities, as well as other rural healthcare institutions, had initially established a telemedicine program and then a teletrauma system, using video technology in a dedicated conference setting at each location, according to a study outlining the pilot's results.

But a lack of user-friendly hardware and software proved challenging in facilitating long-distance teleconsultations for trauma patients. There was also a high cost associated with maintaining required hardware and equipment needed for telecommunications.

So UAMC and one rural center partnered on a potential solution that switched out the video hardware system with smartphones with live video-streaming capabilities.

"Using the new technology increased the availability of a trauma surgeon for teletrauma consultations. Additionally, the smartphone consultations were conducted from numerous locations within UAMC with no reported hardware problems," the study authors write.

The pilot program, which was HIPAA compliant, provided a smartphone to the on-call physician at the rural hospital and to on-call trauma surgeons at UAMC.

"Using these smartphones, the on-call [rural] physician had 24/7 access to the on-call trauma surgeon at UAMC. The smartphone video calls transmitted initially through a 3G network and later through the in-hospital Wi-Fi network. Using Wi-Fi at all hospitals improved both the video and audio quality of smartphone calls and guaranteed uninterrupted communication," the study authors write.

The results not only increased access to a trauma surgeon for teletrauma consultations, the consultations could be conducted from numerous locations at UAMC with no reported hardware problems. It also eliminated the need for a designated room for teletrauma consults.

"The use of smartphones made the telepresence of the trauma surgeon located at UAMC possible in the rural hospital," the study notes, and adding that the smartphones were efficient to use and easily accessible in emergency rooms, and rendered emergency protocols for the use of the older stationary teletrauma equipment unnecessary. The study concludes smartphones are proven to be a cost-effective and ideal solution for telemedicine/teletrauma programs.

Smartphones are fast becoming a favorite device given their mobile nature and the increasing mobile apps for the healthcare segment. The devices are quickly turning into inexpensive medical devices, as well.

To learn more:
- read the study

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