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San Antonio FD uses video calls, monitoring app to reduce unnecessary transports

The department began using the GoodSAM telemedicine program in December to assess some patients remotely

By Laura French

SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio Fire Department (SAFD) is using video calls with paramedics and remote medical monitoring through a mobile app to help reduce unnecessary ambulance transports.

The department began using the GoodSAM telemedicine program in December, and SAFD officials say the system eliminates about 13 ambulance calls per day, according to News 4 San Antonio.

Under the program, 911 dispatchers will transfer calls that are not life-threatening to a clinical dispatcher or paramedic, who will send the 911 caller a link to the GoodSAM application. The app facilitates a video call between the patient and clinical dispatcher and allows for remote monitoring of the patient’s pulse and respiration rate.

The clinical dispatcher will assess whether the patient should go to the hospital and offer guidance, but can still call for an ambulance if the patient requests one. They can also offer the patient a taxi voucher to go to the emergency room later.

SAFD Lt. Rex Pantoja told News 4 San Antonio that the program helps free up ambulances to respond to life-threatening emergencies such as cardiac arrests and shootings. He said the program was especially useful during winter storms in February when it was used about 40 times per day. Pantoja said dispatchers used the video call feature to show patients without power for their oxygen machines how to connect to portable oxygen tanks.

The SAFD said it is the first fire department in the United States to use the GoodSAM program, which costs the department about $149,000 a year. According to the GoodSAM website, the system is also used by the London Ambulance Service and Great North Air Ambulance in the United Kingdom.

“The San Antonio Fire Department is leading the United States as the first agency to implement the use of telemedicine technology to improve call response times and save our residents and taxpayers time and money. The GoodSam program is especially critical during the COVID-19 pandemic and will help protect our EMS teams from unintended exposures and saving personal protective equipment,” San Antonio City Manager Erik Walsh said in a statement in December.