eTriage armbands could get disaster victims treated faster
By Ben Coxworth
December 16, 2013
When emergency response crews have to deal with many casualties at once, such as at a disaster site, one of the first things they do is set up a triage system. This involves assessing the severity of each patient's injuries, so that the people who need help most urgently get it first. It's a system that works, but the EU-funded BRIDGE project is trying to make it better. The project partners are developing a new high-tech triage, that incorporates GPS and RFID technology.
In conventional triage systems, patients get color-coded paper tags attached to them – the color indicates the severity of their injuries. Additionally, vital statistics such as pulse and respiratory rate are hand-written on the tags. If those stats should change since the time that the information was written, however, it can often be difficult if not impossible to physically update.
In what is known as the eTriage system, patients instead receive color-coded armbands. Each band includes GPS and RFID chips, along with electronics that allow it to communicate with an area network. Additional sensors are placed on the patient's body, and transmit vitals to the armband.
Using a radio protocol such as Zigbee, that will work even if the local cellular networks are down, the armbands are able to communicate with tablets or smartphones used by the rescue teams. A map view or augmented reality view on those devices' screens shows the location and color classification of all patients, along with real-time continuously-updated stats for each person.
Users are also alerted as new patients are added. "With our eTriage system, a severely injured person categorized as red is reported within no more than 30 seconds and can be evacuated immediately," says Erion Elmasllari, who works with the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology. "With the conventional paper tag method, it often takes up to 30 minutes before the victim is evacuated."
The system has already been tested in an exercise that simulated a terrorist attack on a Norwegian ferry terminal, involving 350 victims and 50 first responders. It reportedly "worked perfectly," and plans now call for a two-month field trial with a relief organization.