Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Health Network says it is the first system in Pennsylvania to launch a pre-hospital telemedicine program for use in the emergency medical services community.

A local EMS crew recently connected its first patient from her home to an emergency room physician at Allegheny Valley Hospital.

"This innovative year-long pilot program, in which patients in their homes can speak directly to an emergency room physician via an iPad connection, offers new opportunities for EMS providers and patients who don’t want, or don’t need, to go to the emergency room," health system executives said.

On the first telemedicine consult, a crew responded to a call from a 59-year-old woman who was experiencing anxiety, sweating, and shakiness related to her diabetes.

They connected her via an iPad with Allegheny Valley Hospital emergency medicine physician Andrea Fisk, M.D., who had the chance to actually look at the patient while asking her questions, and cleared her to stay home and out of the hospital.

Pre-hospital telemedicine can be effective in a variety of selected situations, Robert McCaughan, the system's vice-president of pre-hospital care services, said.

“It can keep patients who don’t need hospital-based care out of the hospital, and it can get patients who need to be hospitalized into the hospital,” argued McCaughan. “It can also help a doctor determine whether a patient can be treated at a community hospital, or whether he or she needs to be transported to a destination offering specialized care, such as a certified stroke center.”

An emergency physician might also refer a patient seen via telemedicine to an urgent care center, or advise the patient to call his or her primary care physician for an appointment. Patients must be conscious and alert, and must give spoken approval, to be treated via telemedicine.

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