South Australia dials into 3G data for Ambulances

By Paul Hemsley

South Australian Minister for Health and Ageing John Hill has improved digital communications for state ambulance crews to increase the amount of information they have about the patient and the incident at the scene of an emergency.

The South Australian government’s initiative to install mobile data terminals in ambulances to receive signals from a high-speed, secure, 3G mobile broadband network was to address problems in emergency radio communications.

Details would previously have to be noted down manually and officers would need to be given directions to an incident over the radio with a street directory at the ambulance control centre. Officers have also experienced difficulties in transmitting medical information over radio because the lack of clarity would hinder an officer’s effort to write it down.

The new technology addresses these problems by informing the ambulance officers through a terminal on the dashboard and a GPS system.

The government expects that this will slash about one minute off response times that might ordinarily take about eight minutes without the new technology.

The project to install and activate mobile data terminals in all ambulances in SA cost the state $6.14 million. As part of that total, the federal government has funded $2.27 million to regional areas in the state to launch a 3G mobile broadband network as part of the Digital Regional Initiative.

According to the SA government, the mobile data terminals went live in metropolitan Adelaide in December 2012 after they had been activated across regional South Australia in the last few months.

The installation of the communications technology in ambulances comes after state premiers from New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia pushed the federal government to allocate 20 MHz of two-way digital spectrum in the 700 MHz range for emergency services in July 2012. South Australia was not among the other states making that demand.

However this showdown between the states and the Commonwealth resulted with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) deciding to allocate only half the digital spectrum that the states lobbied.

The states attacked this decision claiming that the 10 MHz in the 800 MHz range was insufficient for the level of traffic generated by modern digital radio systems.

Mr Hill said ambulance officers will have access to important clinical guidelines and detailed, real-time information about the case.

“This means paramedics will arrive on the scene of a medical emergency with information specific to the patients and the incident, helping them to make good decisions in an environment where every minute counts,” Mr Hill said.

Minister for Employment Participation and Early Childhood and Childcare Kate Ellis, speaking on behalf of the Minister for Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy Stephen Conroy, said the mobile data terminals link the vehicles with the SA Ambulance Service Emergency Operations Centre.

Ms Ellis said this will give crews improved access to details of the incident as well as information including paediatric drug charts and clinical practice guidelines.

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