Computers will help trauma care Equipment can relay information to hospital before victim arrives

November 03, 1995|By Diana K. Sugg | Diana K. Sugg,Sun Staff

To improve the odds for a Howard County car crash victim or a U.S. soldier shot in Somalia, the technology supporting the nation's trauma care is being revamped in a two-year, $18-million-plus effort.

The goal is to shave precious minutes off the time it takes to locate, diagnose and direct victims to hospitals. Forty percent of trauma mortalities occur within the first hour of injury. It's been dubbed the "golden hour," since life or death is often determined that crucial window.

A consortium of 15 public and private agencies, including the University of Maryland at Baltimore, are working on computer technology that essentially speeds up the care of trauma victims at almost every point.

Yesterday, that technology was showcased at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center for about 225 officials from U.S. hospitals, ambulance companies and the military. The new software and equipment includes a personal data monitor, which can pick up and relay a victim's vital signs to a hospital, and a rugged, hand-held computer that can help a paramedic collect and track patient's medical history and status.

"What we're trying to do is take the expertise of Shock Trauma, and to extend that electronic hand and touch the medic and soldier in the field," said Col. John Silva, an Air Force physician and manager of the effort, the Trauma Care Information Management System.

"It's an information blueprint for the who, what, why, and when of trauma care."

The effort was selected by the Defense Department's Technology Reinvestment Project and is half funded by federal dollars. Early and aggressive care could cut down on the mounting human and financial cost of trauma. In the civilian sector alone, accidental injuries each year translate into roughly 150,000 deaths and 400,000 permanent disabilities.

But surgeons and other experts say the new technology could help.

Imagine a farmer whose arm is severed by equipment. Surgeons have few details about the patient by the time medics bring the victim to a hospital and too many minutes have passed. Under new technology, dispatchers would know the exact location of the farmer, and medics could use their computers to get and send medical information. By the time the patient arrives, the surgeon knows the facts. The operating room is prepared. And the bucket of ice is ready for the arm.

In another example, new software created by Digital Equipment Corp. would replace a wall-mounted board where staffers use grease-pencils to write basic patient information. A quick glance at the file would tell physicians the patients' vital signs. Injuries would show up as icons on a diagram of the human body.

Dr. Brad Cushing, a surgeon at Shock Trauma who is advising the consortium on practicality, said such improvements will make a big difference. He said dispatchers would know very early whether to send fire trucks or a helicopter and where to direct the patient.

The project carries more import for the military, since it must deal with mass casualties, said Lt. Col. Cass Conaway, a surgeon working with the consortium.

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