Better help is on the way for the 30-odd million people who call on EMS every year. Shrinking electronics, wireless proliferation and â€smartâ€ materials from the likes of NASA are set to transform the ambulance into a virtually mobile ER. To equip the prototype ambulance below, we found eight medical gadgets of the near future designed to perform accurately in the field and during the cramped, chaotic, often bumpy ride to the hospital. Let’s hope this is the only place you’ll run into them.
A patient in Houston can be whisked to a Level 1 trauma center inside 15 minutes; in Southwest Texas’s Webb County, the trip might take two hours. This so frustrated Texas trauma surgeon James H. â€Redâ€ Duke that he developed a digital ambulance that lets doctors orchestrate treatment from the hospital. The Disaster Relief and Emergency Medical Services Interact ambulance transmits and receives vitals and video by switching among cellular, satellite and 802.11 networks. Vibrations, corners and overpasses cause most antennas to drop their connection, but this one keeps a tight lock even on twisty roads. Should a connection failure occur, error-correcting software in a pair of $73,000 modems reconstructs the missing bits. The system transmits patient information to the hospital, where ER docs see and hear everything through videoconferencing equipment and issue instructions to en route EMTs.
The Institute of Critical Care Medicine’s automated pneumatic CPR machine straps around a cardiac victim and delivers perfectly timed compressions. In five years, the four-pound pumper could be used to save a victim who, for example, needs to be carried down 30 flights of stairs or is trapped in a car.
University of Nebraska researchers developed 85-millimeter-long in vivo robots that can be slipped into an incision and piloted into the abdomen. Drill-bit-like grooves propel the ’bots, and cameras beam images to the hospital. Using clamps and coagulants, they will zip over to a spewing artery and seal it.
A pupil that responds sluggishly to light could indicate brain trauma. But what’s sluggish? Medical Device Management’s handheld pupilometer reduces the chance of a missed diagnosis. Held in front of the eye, it emits a flash of LED light. Infrared video records the pupil’s size and response time, and software determines whether the pupil is reacting as it should.
Despite its toylike appearance, this helmet is more Matrix than Mattel. In development at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, it detects brain injuries with two transducers at the temples that send low-frequency ultrasound signals through the brain. It measures transmitted and reflected signals to resolve whether there is bleeding, a blood clot or other abnormalities, allowing treatment to begin—stat.
Among imaging options—MRI, x-ray, CT—only ultrasound is portable enough to be used in the field. But standard ultrasound images show just a single slice of a damaged organ. Sensant Corporation’s version scans organs in full 3-D glory, allowing EMTs to easily identify internal bleeding.
If it makes it through testing, Northfield Lab’s PolyHeme will be the first ambulance-friendly blood substitute. It has a 12-month shelf life (trumping the real thing) and is compatible with any blood type. To brew it, chemists extract hemoglobin from human blood, remove the impurities, and then bind the cleaned-up molecules.
To buy time for stroke victims, CoolSystems is testing a hood filled with circulating ice water that absorbs heat to stave off brain damage. Originally designed by a NASA scientist who developed cooling systems for space suits, the hood lowers brain temperature 3