New technology can improve ambulance services in developing countries

New technology can improve ambulance services in developing countries
©iStock/Petri Oeschger

Technological improvements in ambulance services could reduce the number of injured people in dying unnecessarily developing nations.

New electronic tools that could speed hospital transfers and help reduce the chances of patients dying from injuries caused by accidents or violence are being trailed in Rwandan ambulance services.

Each year in Rwanda, around 9% of deaths are caused by injury, with 47% of fatalities occurring before the patient could reach a hospital. Like many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), Rwanda is troubled by long delays to ambulance services. All communication between patients, ambulances, and hospitals is done via multiple phone-calls.

Using software to improve ambulance services

In order to address these issues, Rwanda Build Program (RWBuild), a local software firm, designed 912Rwanda. This is a novel electronic system which regularly collects information from hospitals on the availability of equipment and staff, and from the ambulance crew on patient status. The tool uses this information to direct the patient to the nearest hospital that can accept them.

The UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) has backed the development of innovative electronic communication platforms in Rwanda, by donating over £3 million in funding through their Research and Innovation for Global Health Transformation (RIGHT) programme.

Researchers from the University of Birmingham and the University of Rwanda will collaborate with colleagues from the Ministry of Health, RWBuild and the Universities of Global Health Equity; these include the Universities of York, Aberdeen, and Utah. The researchers plan on finalising the development of the 912Rwanda system and exploring its real-time capabilities.

The technology could be rolled out in multiple countries

The collaborative study will test the effectiveness, cost, and delivery of 912Rwanda in two different settings: Kigali, which is a predominantly urban area, and Musanze District which is predominately rural. The trial will aim to maximise opportunities for transferring the electronic system to ambulance services in other LMICs.

“Injuries in LMICs are common and their number is expected to increase, but death and disability after injury can be substantially reduced if people reach healthcare facilities in a timely manner,” said Justine Davies, Professor of Global Health Research at the University of Birmingham.

“Understanding how we can reduce the time it takes to get injured patients to hospital is critical to saving lives. This project could play a key role in developing similar solutions in countries facing the same sort of problems,” added Jean Claude Byiringiro, Dean of the Medical School at University.

Once the researchers complete the development of 912Rwanda’s algorithms and user interfaces, they will develop learning materials and conduct staff training, before conducting field-trials and rolling out the new technology.

“We are excited to move this project forward. This emergency software decision solution will ensure pre-hospital patients reach the ‘right’ hospital and help reduce the ambulance total journey time. I look forward to working with our partners on this project. We can provide the best strategies and processes with these great partners as they prove its capability,” concluded Rob Rickard of RWBuild.

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