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Open Access Original research

Prehospital digital photography and automated image transmission in an emergency medical service – an ancillary retrospective analysis of a prospective controlled trial

Sebastian Bergrath1*, Rolf Rossaint1, Niklas Lenssen1, Christina Fitzner2 and Max Skorning1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Anaesthesiology, University Hospital Aachen, RWTH Aachen University, Pauwelsstr. 30, Aachen, D–52074, Germany

2 Department of Medical Statistics, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany

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Scandinavian Journal of Trauma, Resuscitation and Emergency Medicine 2013, 21:3  doi:10.1186/1757-7241-21-3

Published: 16 January 2013

Abstract

Background

Still picture transmission was performed using a telemedicine system in an Emergency Medical Service (EMS) during a prospective, controlled trial. In this ancillary, retrospective study the quality and content of the transmitted pictures and the possible influences of this application on prehospital time requirements were investigated.

Methods

A digital camera was used with a telemedicine system enabling encrypted audio and data transmission between an ambulance and a remotely located physician. By default, images were compressed (jpeg, 640 x 480 pixels). On occasion, this compression was deactivated (3648 x 2736 pixels). Two independent investigators assessed all transmitted pictures according to predefined criteria. In cases of different ratings, a third investigator had final decision competence. Patient characteristics and time intervals were extracted from the EMS protocol sheets and dispatch centre reports.

Results

Overall 314 pictures (mean 2.77 ± 2.42 pictures/mission) were transmitted during 113 missions (group 1). Pictures were not taken for 151 missions (group 2). Regarding picture quality, the content of 240 (76.4%) pictures was clearly identifiable; 45 (14.3%) pictures were considered “limited quality” and 29 (9.2%) pictures were deemed “not useful” due to not/hardly identifiable content. For pictures with file compression (n = 84 missions) and without (n = 17 missions), the content was clearly identifiable in 74% and 97% of the pictures, respectively (p = 0.003). Medical reports (n = 98, 32.8%), medication lists (n = 49, 16.4%) and 12-lead ECGs (n = 28, 9.4%) were most frequently photographed. The patient characteristics of group 1 vs. 2 were as follows: median age – 72.5 vs. 56.5 years, p = 0.001; frequency of acute coronary syndrome – 24/113 vs. 15/151, p = 0.014. The NACA scores and gender distribution were comparable. Median on-scene times were longer with picture transmission (26 vs. 22 min, p = 0.011), but ambulance arrival to hospital arrival intervals did not differ significantly (35 vs. 33 min, p = 0.054).

Conclusions

Picture transmission was used frequently and resulted in an acceptable picture quality, even with compressed files. In most cases, previously existing “paper data” was transmitted electronically. This application may offer an alternative to other modes of ECG transmission. Due to different patient characteristics no conclusions for a prolonged on-scene time can be drawn. Mobile picture transmission holds important opportunities for clinical handover procedures and teleconsultation.

Keywords:
Telemedicine; Teleconsultation; Digital image; Emergency medical service; Picture transmission; Photo transmission