Skype Assessments for 999 callers:-
Skype is best known as a free and easy way to stay in touch with friends and family. Video calls with loved ones on birthdays and Christmas mornings over long distances is now common. But some ambulance services are now using it in trials to judge whether patients dialing 999 need to be treated in person.
It’s meant to ensure that ambulances only go to the most urgent cases, but leading medical figures warned that video consultations could lead to mistakes. South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS), one of the ambulance trusts trialing Skype, said that using it will improve patient safety because assessing injuries by a video is easier than by phone.
In some cases, the patient’s carer or relative could reveal more about the injury by using the phone’s camera to zoom into the affected area. The trust, which covers Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, and Oxfordshire, said the trial was in its “early stages”. A spokeswoman said that it was launched at nursing homes that were frequent 999 callers.
Patients dial 999 as normal. If their condition is deemed not to be an emergency, they get transferred to a hub of paramedics and nurses at the call center. One will then call
back using Skype, Apple’s FaceTime or a similar video calling app.
A main aim of the trial is to better prioritize patients who need immediate attention. Richard Webber of the College of Paramedics said: “There are a lot of people who call 999
who don’t need an emergency response and it’s clear we have to deal with the demand differently to what we have done previously”.
He added that it shouldn’t be used to treat seriously ill patients. SCAS has confirmed that Skype will be used only for patients suffering from non-life-threatening conditions, such as falls or back pain. But Dr. Richard Vautrey, interim chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, warned that assessing patients by video is flawed. He said: “It’s only when seeing a patient face to face in the consulting room or at home that you can really do a proper physical examination”. One former 999 call handler employed by SCAS agrees.Karen Frederick told the Daily
Karen Frederick told the Daily Mail: “You can’t-do blood pressure via Skype, you can’t-do a heart rate via Skype. There are a lot of issues I can see happening”. She added that some symptoms can’t be detected by video, such as a distinct smell on the breath that indicates a diabetic might have fatally high levels of sugar in their blood.
However, Skype could ease mounting pressure on the emergency services. Ambulances are increasingly forced to queue outside Accident & Emergency departments when offloading patients, meaning they can’t respond to incoming calls.
Increased demand has led to the biggest shake-up of ambulance response times in 40 years. New targets, which will be introduced in November, give paramedics seven minutes to reach the most urgent cases. But these no longer include victims of strokes and heart
attacks, who will now be treated within 40 minutes, longer than before.
So will the Skype trial be successful?
SCAS’s positive reputation may depend on it. Last year it became the first ambulance service to receive a ‘Good’ rating by the inspection watchdog Care Quality Commission. But more important will be the verdict of patients. If they hate the service, it may not be used for long.
The Facts Skype Assessments for 999 callers
- People calling 999 are being examined via Skype to assess their condition.
- Video Consultations are being tested in four southern regions to ease pressure on ambulance crews and A&E departments.
- The trial began with nursing homes, which are frequent callers of 999
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