Geographic information systems (GIS) technology could improve the effectiveness of hospital patient transport services, according to new research from the University of Cincinnati.
The research is offering hospitals and trauma centers a unique, accurate, and scientific approach to making decisions about transporting critical-care patients by air or by ambulance, officials said at a presentation this week at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) in Tampa, Fla.
Early results indicate GIS technology is both accurate and successful in providing estimated transport times to trauma centers. The study analyzes patient transport data from the Maryland Medevac Helicopter Program, focusing on travel time equal to or less than 60 minutes, the so-called “golden hour” of getting critical-care patients to treatment. Launched in 1970, the system in Maryland is taxpayer-funded and operated by state police, with the philosophy that a medical helicopter can transport anyone in the state within the hour. The system is coordinated by the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services System.
In applying the GIS technology to factor ambulance versus medical helicopter response times, the researchers examined more than 10 years of medical helicopter transports in a five county area surrounding Frederick County, Maryland, over 2000-2011. The data involved 2,200 medical cases.
The technology computed the time of air transport versus ground transport, accounting for distance (and not just a straight line) for ground travel, as well as speed limits—estimating that ambulances would travel 10 miles per hour over the posted speed limit. Based on the analyses of the medical cases in the study, the researchers found that 31 percent of the trauma cases transported by air could have also been transported by ambulance within the “golden hour” of trauma treatment, potentially saving taxpayers thousands of dollars.
“As the system becomes more motivated to fly fewer patients—not just for cost but also for safety—we think GIS is going to play a key role,” Samuel Galvagno Jr., assistant professor, divisions of trauma anesthesiology and adult critical care medicine, Maryland Shock Trauma Center, said in a news release. “The technology and analytical methods that Michael has developed for this are going to play a key role in policy decisions and allocation of what is an expensive and limited resource.”
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