US: Telemedicine to be used during disasters

The American Red Cross has entered into a partnership to pilot the use of telemedicine during periods of disasters in the US. During the pilot a nationwide network of physicians will be available for consultation via video calls.

Through this pilot collaboration, physicians working with Red Cross partner Teladoc will be available to people helped by the Red Cross whose access to health care providers has been limited or is unavailable after large-scale disasters. Teladoc’s virtual physician visit services will be made available via web, Teladoc’s mobile app and phone to address the primary health care needs of individuals affected by disasters.

Teladoc is reported to have donated remote medical care during the recent Hurricane Matthew. This partnership is positioned as an expansion of such disaster relief efforts rather than an expansion of its commercial activities.

Use of telemedicine in disaster relief has been implemented previously in the US by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In 2014 the Office of Emergency Management of the VA awarded a contract to use the JEMS Technology disaster relief telehealth system. Going back much earlier, following the December 1988 earthquake in Armenia and the June 1989 gas explosion near Ufa, a satellite based audio, video and fax link, known as the Telemedicine Spacebridge, between four US and two Armenian and Russian medical centres,  permitted remote American consultants to assist Armenian and Russian physicians in the management of medical problems. Last year NATO tested use of telemedicine in disaster situations in a simulated disaster scenario in Ukraine.

Another system, Emergency Telehealth and Navigation, is deployed in Houston for helping with 911 calls. The Houston Fire Department has agreements with doctors so they have access to a doctor at any time to take calls from crew at emergency sites. They find that this avoids having to take some people to hospital when a doctor is able to determine that a condition is non-emergency where a paramedic may well have taken the patient to an Emergency Department.

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