Better equipment, better policies, lives saved

LAKE COUNTY - A change in policy, and a cooperative effort between a variety of healthcare providers is saving lives in Lake County.

It’s a matter of time. It’s a matter of focus.

It’s a matter of cutting to the chase and getting the job done.

And the job is getting done.

In 2007, 12-lead heart monitors were purchased for LIFE EMS ambulances serving Lake County residents.

“The county partnered with LIFE in getting great equipment purcased for this community, and the 12-lead monitors went into service shortly thereafter,” reported Jeffrey Stockhill, director or north operations for LIFE EMS.

“Installing these heart monitors was a big step up for service in this area. There is not only the initial purchase, but there is also extensive training involved.”

A ‘normal’ EKG monitor is able to gauge problems in the heart. A 12-lead monitor offers a much more extensive view of the heart during time of crisis and monitors can, with a very high degree of accuracy, tell not only the extent of the situation but also the location of the problem within the cardiopulmonary system.

“Being able to get a better evaluation of cardiac situations in the field was a huge step,” continued Stockhill.

“The information medics in the field are able to send to hospitals is much more extensive and helpful in getting patients to better and more appropriate care in less time.”

As time went by, and doctors in emergency rooms around the state were better able to glean definitive information from medical response personnel in the field, there was a realization that there were steps being taken in treatment that could be passed over in favor of quicker delivery to the appropriate medical destination.

“We knew there was basically a 120-minute window of opportunity - from the onset of a heat attack to the time a patient was delivered to a cath lab,” noted Stockhill.

“That time frame was put in jeopardy by the stages of treatment and care ambulance personnel were required to take.

“For example, instead of heading directly for a cath lab after a cardiologist has seen the 12-lead information over digital communication lines, our teams were still heading first to a local hospital and then continuing on with the transport to a cath lab at another location - often the Meijer Heart Center in Grand Rapids.”

Working with local hospitals, Lakeola Medical Control, cath labs, Aeromed, and LIFE EMS staff, a team of planners has come up with a policy that actually cuts the time between response to a cardiac incident, and delivery of the patient to the appropriate care location by quite a bit.

These savings in time are also saving lives.

“We have already responded to incidents in which we actually were able to diagnose and react more directly than we have in the past, closing the time it takes to actually reach a cath lab in case of need,” noted Stockhill.

“We have been able to get people heading directly to a heart center without the need to pass through a local hospital first.

“Working with hospitals, we’ve created a plan of action that is unique to this area and unique to the state.

“This plan of action, gets ambulances headed in the right direction and Aeromed flying - if need be - in order to take advantage of the time frame we have in which to respond.

“This savings of time is certainly saving lives.

“We may still stop at local hospitals - such as Spectrum in Reed City - but the time between stopping in Reed City and continuing on to a heart center is much less than it was ever before.

“We’re wiping out the time spent at an outlying hospital that wasn’t providing definitive care.”

In January, a 43-year old patient in the Idelwild area collapsed. Within a very short period of time, the young man was diagnosed using a 12-lead monitor and and the LIFE EMS team was able to see exactly what type of heart attack this was.

“Rather than head for Reed City Hospital, the team met the helicopter in Baldwin and had him in Grand Rapids undergoing treatment at the heart center within 64 minutes,” said Stockhill.

“It was a real team effort and a good policy program that saved this man’s life.

“He returned to work two weeks later.

“We have programs in place in Lake County that are saving lives and being watched by emergency services all around the state.

“That is certainly a good thing for the people of this community.”