EMS medics in East Baton Rouge Parish will soon be equipped with new gadgets expected to significantly improve vital information hospitals receive about patients en route to treatment facilities.

The equipment, a fresh batch of heart monitors, will not only increase the scope and quality of the information provided, medical officials said, but particularly the speed at which it’s delivered.

“It’s a big deal,” Dr. Bryan Hathorn, a cardiologist at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, said regarding the influx of new monitors.

The upgrade, compared by paramedics to replacing a propeller with a jet engine on an airplane, comes as first responders and hospitals are adjusting to the challenges of life without an emergency room in central or north Baton Rouge following the recent closure of Baton Rouge General Medical Center’s ER in Mid City.

Thus far, though, the effects of the ER’s closure appear to be mostly benign for first responders.

Ambulances predictably are taking more patients to the parish’s remaining ERs, particularly OLOL and Baton Rouge General Medical Center at Bluebonnet, said Mike Chustz, an EMS spokesman. And the agency’s average transport times — clocked from pickup to drop-off at a treatment center — rose by about 10 percent in the three weeks after the ER’s closure compared to the three weeks prior, Chustz said.

But the change in transport times shouldn’t be problematic, he said.

In addition, the agency’s average drop times — clocked when an ambulance arrives at a hospital until paramedics radio to dispatchers saying they’re available for a new call — went relatively unchanged, Chustz said, while the average response times — how long it takes first responders to get to a patient after a 911 call — actually dropped a few seconds.

“Right now, we’re pretty excited about these numbers,” Chustz said. “We’re not disappointed at all.”

Meanwhile, the new heart monitors will be a huge improvement compared to the fleet’s old monitors.

EMS purchased the 40 new devices at $28,000 each as part of a trade-in deal after paramedics chose the specific device as their favorite following monthslong testing trials of three devices, Chustz said.

“It’s good for the patient and good for the provider as well,” said Jeff Rupple, a paramedic from Massachusetts who spent Tuesday and Thursday training EMS paramedics how to use the new devices.

Rupple, a representative for the maker of the heart monitors, Zoll Medical Corp., said the new monitors weigh about a third less than the old ones.

At 13 to 14 pounds — compared to 22 — paramedics relish the lighter equipment, he said.

Among the most significant improvements the new monitors bring to the fleet is wireless connectivity to hospitals via the Internet. Whereas the old monitors needed to be hooked up to a laptop — temporarily distracting paramedics from the patient — before information could be sent, the new ones allow data to be sent with the click of a button.

So what used to take about four or five minutes now takes 30 seconds or less, Rupple said.

Other key upgrades include an exhale monitor, which can detect levels of carbon monoxide in someone’s breath, improved blood pressure reading capabilities while a vehicle is in motion and a “CPR feedback feature,” which has been shown to vastly improve the efficiency of the life-saving exercise, Rupple said.

Mike Denicola, an EMS shift supervisor, described the monitors as “game-changing.”

“It’s designed to make a medic’s job easier,” Denicola said.

Another key improvement involves how closely paramedics can examine a person’s heart simply by sticking some probes with wires attached to someone’s chest.

Before, the monitors recorded what’s called a three lead electrocardiogram, or EKG, which essentially captures three different views of a heart expressed in the form of plotted lines on a graph. The new monitors record 12 such views.

The additional readings, coupled with a quicker arrival, will enable doctors to make much more informed decisions about treatment options before a patient arrives at a hospital, cardiologists said.

“It provides better quality care for the patients, better timeliness, and ultimately … better outcomes,” Dr. Nakia Newsome, an interventional cardiologist at Baton Rouge General-Bluebonnet, said of the new technology. “It will be a big help because we’ll be able to diagnose people with heart attacks in the field prior to them getting to a hospital.”

Dr. Hathorn, of OLOL, said the nearly real-time information will expand treatment another notch closer to a patient’s doorstep.

“This is all just a function of cutting the time between the event and the treatment,” Hathorn said. “And obviously, if you can treat the patient quicker in certain time-sensitive diseases, especially stroke and heart attack, then the patients are going to do better.”

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