Will Tablets Change Emergency Services Forever?

    July 19, 2012
    Amanda Crum

With technology advancing at such a rapid, incredible pace, it seems inevitable that particular facets of life as we know it will absorb certain aspects of it; and with items like tablets becoming less expensive every day, they appear to be the first things every company wants.

The benefits of businesses using a tablet greatly outweigh those of using a desktop or even a laptop; lightweight, compact, and relatively affordable, they offer ease of working while traveling, while at the same time providing a much-needed message to their clients that they are on top of technological trends, which can be extremely important for a company’s reputation. Schools are also getting into the act, in part because tablets offer students a way to learn that is in keeping with the fascination of today’s youth with tech gadgets; in short, it makes learning more fun, which means students tend to have a higher success rate in class. But tablets like Apple’s iPad also offer more than 15,000 learning-based apps available for download, an invaluable resource for teachers.

Do you work for a school or business that has integrated tablet use into everyday operations? What are the successes or failures you’ve experienced? Let us know in the comments section.

The latest use for tablets involves emergency services, a fascinating and complicated step that has seen its share of pros and cons already. In the high-pressure, fast-paced world inhabited by paramedics, firefighters, and medical professionals, the use of a tablet could turn out to be either a game-changer or a huge failure. One emergency service–Muskogee County EMS in Oklahoma–says that for now, the iPad is in the early stages of changing the way they do things for the better.

The service currently has 20 ambulances in its fleet, all of which feature an iPad enabled with a program called Geosafe. The program allows the emergency call center to relay information to the vehicles, depending on which one is closest to the area. Chad Cox, an IT specialist for the service, described how it all works.

“The Geosafe software pulls data from the Call Center’s CAD system and displays certain call-related information onto the iPad: times, patient information, alerts, etc. On the iPad, Geosafe overlays the ambulances positions onto the stock Google maps and also transmits that same information back to the Call Center; the dispatchers have a desktop version of Geosafe, where the dispatchers can see the trucks moving in real time,” he told WebProNews.

Because communications are so much more enhanced with this system, it could revolutionize the way emergency calls are handled and responded to.

“Dispatch is able to see the trucks in real time so it makes it easier for them to dispatch them to nearby calls, further shortening the medics response time to a scene,” Cox added.

Cox also says that Geosafe is working on a weather map, which would enable paramedics to see any inclement weather coming their way. The only potential glitch in the system is that Geosafe may be buggy when faced with Apple updates, especially when they switch over to using their own map system; however, Cox says they have been assured that any iOS updates won’t affect the software.

So far, so good. But while some nearby cities have begun to catch on to the iPad trend for emergency services, not everyone is so keen to jump on board. For one thing, some towns don’t have a big enough emergency service to make it cost effective or entirely necessary. But there’s also the question of feasibility for other branches of emergency response; for instance, for as helpful as the tablets are proving to be in ambulances, they might not do so well in fire trucks. One major concern is the extreme temperatures a fire engine endures; unlike an ambulance, which doesn’t sit idle for very long, a fire truck sometimes sits for several hours in the heat while a fire is battled, something which would cause a tablet to power down or even malfunction. Also, there’s the added hazard of firefighters throwing wet gear around in the truck, which could damage the screen. The biggest issue, according to a firefighter’s post on Firehouse.com, is that a touchscreen doesn’t mesh well with a vehicle carrying up to 50,000 pounds of weight bouncing around at high speeds.

However, some stations are having success with tablets inside their units; the trick is to find the right software and, as with any digital device, handle it with care. A firefighter posted his comment on Firehouse.com regarding tablets:

We have had our Motorola Xyboard 10.1″ tablets in our trucks for about a week now, and everything is running great. For starting we simply used Google maps to map our calls which gave us the option to either type the address or speak it to the tablet, which is much easier. Today we began using software from Chirange Technologies and it is some very sophisticated software which actually surpasses our needs. As for mounting, we purchased mounts from Padholdr, which is by far the best tablet mounts on the market. They are beefy and well made so I don’t ever think of the tablet falling out. The mounts consist of a U shape, where the tablet slides down into the mount when in the truck and easily removed by simply picking the tablet up and out of the mount. One thing I need to find is a way to integrate CAD to recieve calls automatically vs having to manually input every call.

It looks like the technology could certainly be of great benefit in the longrun to medical services, depending on the software used and whether or not it’s financially feasible for smaller companies. The more success is found, the better chance tablets have of doing for emergency services what the CB Radio did for them in the 70’s.

When asked whether tablets are a passing fad or something that will stick in his line of work, Chad Cox said he thinks they’re here to stay.

“Right now Geosafe for the iPad is in its infancy and has so much potential to grow into something bigger and richer,” he said.

Do you think your local EMS should spend the money to install tablets in their vehicles? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments section.


Amanda Crum
Amanda Crum is a writer and artist from Kentucky. She's a fan of Edward Gorey, Hunter S. Thompson, and horror movies. You can follow her on Google:+Amanda Crum