Tech revs up ambulance services

More than 100 ambulance services in South Dakota — most of them volunteer

organizations — have been outfitted by the state with new computers and

software that government officials hope will significantly boost the services'

ability to react during major disasters and emergencies.

The new systems will bring all of the ambulance services on to the Internet,

many of them for the first time, allowing state officials to quickly reach

them via e-mail in the event of an emergency.

The systems also will help streamline the bureaucracy of the ambulance

services, enabling them to file required trip reports electronically rather

than using error-prone scanning of paper forms. That scanning method produced

error rates of 15 percent to 25 percent, according to Kevin Forsch, director

of Health Systems Development and Regulation in South Dakota's Health Department.

"Also, the services had been begging to get online for testing purposes,

so people could recertify without having to travel" to testing centers,

he said. "The new systems will also allow for electronic billing and give

the services a way of easily communicating with each other."

Electronic filing also will enable the ambulance services to build their

own local databases so they can analyze what emergencies they respond to

and when, Forsch said. They'll then be able to schedule such things as extra

training where it is needed.

Forsch said that more than 80 percent of the ambulance services in South

Dakota are staffed completely by volunteers and have no dedicated funding

sources. The money the services have received from local contributors has

gone toward paying for essentials, and getting into the Electronic Age has

been a lower priority.

Delivery of the systems and computer training was completed in mid-March.

Plans to develop statewide networks are in the works, and the ambulance

services are expected to begin filing reports electronically by May 1.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached

at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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