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Dr. Michael Disney,  director of Parkway Medical Center's Emergency Department, with a modern 12-lead EKG monitor. Ambulance crews in Decatur currently use an older, 3-lead system,  which is 'generally not useful,' Disney said.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Dr. Michael Disney, director of Parkway Medical Center's Emergency Department, with a modern 12-lead EKG monitor. Ambulance crews in Decatur currently use an older, 3-lead system, which is "generally not useful," Disney said.

A matter of life
and death

New ambulance service seen improving chances of heart patients

By Chris Paschenko
chris@decaturdaily.com 340-2442

Medical technology used by Decatur's firefighting paramedics and the city's only contracted ambulance service is outdated and generally useless for heart patients, an emergency room director said.

Another ambulance company, which was selected in November to replace the current provider, has the technology to bring Decatur's two emergency rooms into your living room. But the company has waited more than three months on the city to close the deal.

Dr. Michael Disney, director of Parkway Medical Center's Emergency Department, and members of the city's Emergency Medical Services Committee, recommended replacing the city's three-lead electrocardiogram technology with a 12-lead version.

When someone has a heart problem or experiences chest pain in Decatur or the city's police jurisdiction, paramedic firefighters and a private ambulance company attach three leads to the patient to obtain a heart rhythm.

"But there's no information on it that a patient is having a heart attack," Disney said. "And it is generally not useful. You need to have a 12-lead system to make a definitive diagnosis."

Decatur Fire Marshal Darwin Clark, a liaison to the EMS Committee, said the city's technology is 15 years old and will be obsolete by year's end.

"This model was discontinued 10 years ago," Clark said. "It has been our intention the last two years to move into the 12-lead technology."

Tom McDougal, chief executive officer at Parkway, said his facility was instrumental in recommending the new technology in the field. The city's new ambulance contract, if approved by the City Council, would require 12-lead technology for Decatur's ambulance provider.

Legal issues

City Attorney Herman Marks said he and Assistant City Attorney Kelly Butler, who recently returned from maternity leave, will have any legal issues with the ambulance contract resolved within two weeks and then recommend the council approve the contract.

The council would then have the option of removing the city's current ambulance provider in favor of Care Ambulance of Alabama.

Butler and Disney were on the panel that ranked Care Ambulance first among six companies competing to become the city's sole ambulance provider. The same panel also ranked current provider Decatur Emergency Medical Services last.

Council President Billy Jackson said the city shouldn't rush the legal department in the matter.

Meanwhile, Dell Gamble, director of operations for Care Ambulance of Alabama, said his company could answer medical calls in Decatur as soon as May or June.

"Our whole fleet in Alabama and Georgia uses 12 leads," Gamble said. "We put in a transmitting system where our units can transmit to the hospital."

Waiting on city

McDougal and Decatur General Marketing Director Susan Claborn said their emergency departments are waiting on the city to select compatible equipment, so their machines can receive heart data via a cell phone or other devices from the field.

Fire Chief Charlie Johnson said he'll ask for council approval to apply for a grant to fund most of the equipment purchases for eight fire stations.

Decatur's current ambulance provider and the city's two hospitals are waiting to see which type of equipment the city buys to ensure compatibility.

"We don't want to have to buy the equipment twice," McDougal said. "

"Implementing the 12-lead system is critical for the continuum of care for patients in the field."

Claborn said once the receivers are in place, the system can transmit detailed digital heart data to a cardiologist's personal data device.

The system would also let doctors store previous heart rhythms for comparison, Clark said.

Johnson said triaging patients on their way to the hospital would save time.

"This way the team is waiting on you," Johnson said. "You're not triaged in the emergency room. You go straight to the chest-pain center. We're trying to reduce the ER door to treatment time by as much as 30 minutes."

Time lost is heart muscle lost, Johnson said.

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