Austin medics debut ‘emergency medical hotspot’ at SXSW

EMS medical tent at SXSW (KXAN Photo)
EMS medical tent at SXSW (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — If you get into medical trouble during South by Southwest this year, city paramedics are rolling out a high tech lifesaver that could be a first in the nation.

EMS is using a dedicated, private WiFi signal to send real-time information from EKG heart machines at the downtown festival directly to local emergency rooms.

“It’s really nice when you can look at an EKG on a patient on a street corner and understand they’re having a heart attack as the paramedics interpret that EKG and then get it to the doctors and nurses,” said EMS Division Chief Wes Hopkins. “A lot of times in a heart attack situation, we would bypass the ER and go right to the cath lab so that interventional cardiologists can see it and have a game plan already before the patient rolls through the door.”

The biggest benefit: the patient can be fully diagnosed even before an ambulance is called. Austin-Travis County EMS ambulances are outfitted with WiFi to communicate with hospitals. The hotspot connection for special events is another way EMS is keeping regular ambulance crews out of a crowded festival perimeter and ready to respond in the rest of the county.

This is the fourth year EMS put up their mobile patient assessment station at Fifth and Congress for SXSW. Patients collected from around the “geofence” perimeter of the festival that takes in downtown, the Rainy Street district and parts of east Austin can be transported via four-wheel vehicles each bearing a stretcher.

Medics also rove the festival on 1200cc BMW motorbikes, similar to what the Austin police motorcycle officers ride. A neurologist visiting Austin from the Boston area says the high tech approach to field medical care using WiFi is a natural next step.

“The next thing they’ll have [is] EEG, they’ll send your brain waves when you have seizure or stroke. No joke,” said Allan Ropper, who works at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “They deserve some credit… I want to meet them. It’s brilliant,” Ropper said.

Total cost for the WiFi setup for the five peak days of SXSW is $200 with the equipment on loan from a city technology department.

Also in the works for Austin-Travis County EMS, they’re talking about how a drone with a video camera could one day be used to find a patient in a crowded venue like the annual Austin City Limits festival – even dropping a portable heart defibrillator to mobile medics on the ground.

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