Ambulance Service launches Video Technology

Patients will soon be able to speak to ambulance service clinicians via video thanks to new technology being introduced by North East Ambulance Service (NEAS).

NEAS is making use of Attend Anywhere software to allow ambulance staff working in the community to seek advice from clinicians working within the Emergency Operations Centre via video link. This will also be used to speak to patients who require advice but may not need an ambulance to attend to them. Building on this, the service will then be expanded to the wider health system, including care homes.

The new system is one of 17 projects which NEAS has been working on since being chosen as one of three ambulance services to join the national Global Digital Exemplar (GDE) programme back in 2018.

Video conferencing will be rolled out at NEAS in the following ways:

Clinical advice for staff – newly qualified paramedics will be able to use the facilities to speak to specialist paramedics for clinical advice and reassurance whilst on scene with a patient who they think can be safely left at home without needing to travel to hospital. This support was previously carried out as a telephone conversation, relying heavily on vocal descriptions; using video instead will allow staff to use visual cues in their clinical decision making.

Patient support – after going through the triage system on either NHS111 or 999, patients who need to speak to a clinician may be given a secure link via text message or email, which will take them through to a video call on their smart phone, computer or tablet.

Specialist support – the system also has the potential to be used by other specialists, such as the NEAS Hazardous Area Response Team and Great North Air Ambulance, to see whether their services are required on scene, ensuring their specialist skills are reserved for patients who need them most.

Paul Aitken-Fell, lead consultant paramedic at NEAS, said “As the regional ambulance service, NEAS forms a critical part of the care process, bridging primary, secondary and acute care. We only touch patients for a short period of time, with little knowledge of their medical history but often in their most desperate times of need. It is therefore vital that we ensure we are informed as much as possible when we are needed.

“The initiatives we are pursuing through this programme, such as video consultation, are helping us to make better use of technology to improve the care and treatment decisions our clinicians make for our patients.

“In light of the current coronavirus pandemic, it is more important than ever that we are able to offer ways of being able to keep patients safely at home and reduce unnecessary ambulance attendances and referrals to hospital and other providers.

“One of the hardest jobs for a clinician working within our Emergency Operations Centre is the inability to see a patient and therefore having to rely on what they are being told over the phone. This inevitably means that they sometimes have no choice but to dispatch an ambulance just to get a pair of eyes on a patient and make sure they’re ok.

“The ability to see patients face to face via video consultations therefore means we can potentially reduce ambulance callouts, freeing up our clinicians to see more patients. We believe it may also mean we see a reduction in referrals to other providers, thereby freeing up appointments in the wider system and reducing the wait for people who need those physical appointments. And, for our newly qualified paramedics, it means they will have improved access to clinical support to help them deliver high quality care for every contact whilst also reducing unnecessary hospital admissions.”

The aim of the GDE programme is to join up and digitalise health systems to provide clinicians with more timely access to accurate information and support service change, thereby improving patient care.

NEAS was chosen to join the GDE programme in recognition of its track record of digital delivery, which included being the first ambulance trust to deliver NHS111 services, being the first ambulance trust to roll out airwave radio and communications system service wide and being the first NHS111 provider to deliver region wide electronic GP bookings.

Other projects which have either been completed or are in the process of being implemented as part of the GDE programme, include:

  • Developing a common message to allow ambulance systems to digitally pass patient information to hospital systems supporting the transfer of care process;
  • Creating a central directory which provides NHS providers with real time information about services available to support a patient;
  • Capturing a patient’s NHS number as part of their 999 call, without delaying treatment to the patient, to provide clinicians with access to additional information relating to the patient’s previous symptoms and treatments and to transfer information to other services, such as GPs following an ambulance call-out;
  • Developing simulation software to identify the impact of system changes, both internally and externally, to ensure resources match the needs of the service;
  • Developing a messaging and collaboration platform for informing ambulance staff about their compliance with best practice and informing them of changes;
  • Introducing barcode tracking to better manage medicine and stocks on vehicles.