By David Mortimer, Sacred Heart Hospital, Communications Department
According to the American Heart Association, over 16 million Americans suffer from coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. In addition, over half a million Americans suffer a stroke each year.
Dialing 911 can be the best thing you (or a loved one) can do for your heart or your brain in the event of stroke or heart attack symptoms. Accessing prompt care is as close as a cell phone or telephone and can help prevent death or reduce disability.
Earlier this year, area EMS providers and the emergency departments at Sacred Heart Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital, and Luther Midelfort collaborated on the implementation and training of new technology that allows area ambulances to transfer live EKG (electrocardiogram) data to area hospital emergency departments. The program enables emergency medical technicians to gather EKG readings at the scene and send information to an area hospital in real time to diagnose the problem quickly and efficiently.
Getting patients quickly to specialized care, including by air medical transport, has been shown to shorten hospital stays, decrease mortality and improve patient outcomes for cardiac and stroke patients. The key is taking action right away.
This past year, thanks to investments in wireless technology in the Chippewa Valley, area healthcare and EMS providers launched a “Care Begins with the Call” educational campaign to Promote 911 usage.
“Fewer than 50 percent of emergency room patients arrive at the Emergency Department in an ambulance,” says Eau Claire Fire Department Deputy Chief Rick Merryfield, who oversees emergency medical services for the department. “Critical treatment time is lost. We know that in many cases, such as stroke, symptoms can be reversed. We can improve quality of life statistics by encouraging people to call 911 when they first sense symptoms of heart attack or stroke. The care really does begin with the call to 911.”
Reluctance to call for help can delay emergency care. Some people have admitted, “We didn’t want to bother the ambulance service,” or “I feel embarrassed coming to the ER if it’s not really serious.” In a stroke or heart attack, however, time is brain or heart muscle.
Dr. Tom Peterson, Sacred Heart Hospital emergency physician and Eau Claire Fire Department Medical Director, “Our EMS crews are trained to respond to those calls and would much rather err on the side of caution, considering the documented benefits of early treatment.”
Emergency department personnel appreciate the new technology. “While patients are in transport, the hospital is made aware of the patient’s situation and real-time vitals, and we are able to prepare for their arrival,” says Sue Johnson, RN, Emergency Services coordinator at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Chippewa Falls. “When we have a walk-in patient, time is needed to triage the situation and begin basic treatments that would have started in the ambulance.”