Telemedical emergency support in Germany - a model for the future

Following the successful pilot phase of a telemedical emergency doctor system deployed in Aachen at the Western border of Germany, the telemedical support of rescue forces is now to be extended to the entire federal state.
By Anna Engberg
04:43 AM

Since 2014, the municipality of Aachen in North Rhine-Westphalia has been testing a telemedical emergency doctor system in rescue services. Now Karl-Josef Laumann, labour, health and social affairs minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, has taken a closer look at the pioneer model from Aachen - and announced in mid-May that he intends to extend the form of care to the entire federal state.

THE BACKGROUND

In an emergency, rescue workers have to act on their own responsibility and make medical decisions - even though they sometimes lack medical expertise. However, five years ago the city of Aachen introduced the system to ensure that patients receive optimal care and risks are reduced to a minimum.

Emergency services are connected to a telemedical centre for the emergency care of patients and are able to consult highly qualified, expert physicians directly and without delay at the scene of the accident while they are still on duty. They are virtually present on site via a live connection and can thus provide the paramedics with advice. In addition to telecommunications technology, modern diagnostic techniques are also used.

Since its introduction, it has accompanied more than 15,000 emergency operations - and is now regarded as a role model for North Rhine-Westphalia. The control centre can even provide parallel support for several operations at the same time by the telemedical emergency doctor.

ON THE RECORD

"The system offers great potential for our federal state. It can optimally support the emergency forces in their work and complement our very well-functioning rescue system," said the health minister during his live assessment.

Although only a few municipalities have participated to date, he said the advantages for patients and rescue services could not be denied. "That is why I am working for a nationwide implementation in North Rhine-Westphalia. Intensive discussions are currently underway at various levels to this end," Laumann announced.

Dr Stefan Beckers, medical director of the Rescue Service of the City of Aachen, also considered telemedical emergency support to be a good addition to the existing rescue service. "In this way, we can reliably ensure emergency medical expertise at the scene of an emergency at all times and promote the efficient disposition of resources and competencies," he explained.

TELEMEDICAL EXPERTISE AT THE SCENE OF AN EMERGENCY REDUCES COSTS – AND SAVES TIME

However, the fastest and best possible treatment of people in emergency situations is not the only advantage of telemedical assistance during rescue missions. Dr Marc Felzen, medical director at the centre in Aachen, said this could also save costs in emergency care.

"If we did not have the system, we would have to put more emergency vehicles into service and logically also pay for the additional emergency doctor," Felzen emphasised. With the existing system, the emergency doctor only has to be called when his physical presence is actually required.

Anna Engberg is a Wiesbaden-based freelance journalist specialising in health and technology.

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