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The future of emergency response may involve wearables and sensors

Researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) aim to create the next generation response to emergencies by studying the potential benefit to wearables and remote monitoring. Currently in the research phase, the Center for Direct Reading and Sensor Technology at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health within CDC is conducting focus groups and scheduling workshops to publish a technical report on the evolving state of sensors in health care next year. The team is interested in exploring how sensors can provide more information in emergency care and potentially enhance first responder preparation and deployment.

One preliminary idea includes putting more sensors in health care facilities to help first responders set priorities. Others areas of government have begun such efforts, and the CDC is hoping to learn from these current activities. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began integrating automated patient tracking capability into first responder training in 2014. The mobile device compatible software uses barcode scanning on triage patient tags to track and identify patients throughout the emergency medical process. The goal is to enable response teams to manage resources more efficiently during large disaster response situations and help ensure patients are provided the correct medication and treatment.

The CDC team anticipates that future networks of sensors will tell first responders what kind of disaster to expect right away: If there is radiation, fire, smoke, a chemical release, or something else. The team wants to learn if sensors could be worn in backpacks and around the waist and where else sensors could be located to help measure what is in the environment.

Analysis: The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response’s (ASPR) latest strategic plan sets out to modernize responses and tap into emerging trends in technology and communication to help communities become better at planning for disasters. Sensors and wearables have potential to play a major role in disaster response and technology start-ups are taking notice.

One company is partnering with Google Glass to develop an app that allows emergency workers to collect data and images from an area while they are performing more urgent tasks. This allows a command center away from the disaster to assess data real-time. Other companies are looking to use crowdsourcing techniques to quickly provide real-time images, video, and intelligence back to decision-makers who can determine resource deployment. Federal and local governments are already using crowdsourcing to improve response time. For example, during Hurricane Sandy, real-time updates from several organizations and individuals helped to create an interactive crisis map to connect individuals in need with evacuation centers, emergency shelters, and other resources.

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Author bio

Doug leads Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Life Sciences and Health Care practice. With 24 years of experience, he works closely with multiple top health care organizations on major clinical and enterprise transformation efforts and on large-scale technology implementation projects. Doug has extensive experience in comprehensive quality and patient safety transformations, turnaround and performance improvement in academic medical centers as well as organization/workflow redesign and technology enablement. He has served as the lead on a number of enterprise transformation initiatives with some of Deloitte’s most largest and most complex clients.