Following large scale disasters, paramedics can quickly get overwhelmed by the number of people injured, and have to be quick to figure out who needs to be given priority during triage. Because people don’t yell loudest in proportion to their injury, and some may have internal damage which cannot immediately be recognized, the Department of Homeland Security is sponsoring the development of the Standoff Patient Triage Tool (SPTT). Bringing together the Technical Support Working Group (TSWG), technology from Boeing and Washington University’s School of Medicine in St. Louis, the project hopes to create a device that can provide basic assessment of an injured person within thirty seconds and as far away as forty feet (12 meters).
From the DHS:
The magic behind SPTT is a technology known as Laser Doppler Vibrometry, which has been used in aircraft and automotive components, acoustic speakers, radar technology, and landmine detection. When connected to a camera, the vibrometer can measure the velocity and displacement of vibrating objects. An algorithm then converts those data points into measurements emergency medical responders can use in their rapid assessment of a patient’s critical medical conditions.
With the help of Washington University, researchers have found that best place to capture strong readings vital signs is on the carotid artery, although strong signals have been obtained from the head, chest, abdomen, even a foot. Researchers are also testing whether readings could be taken when someone is lying in an awkward position, or wearing multiple layers of clothing. So far, the results are encouraging.
Despite its promise, the SPTT is not quite as a sophisticated as StarTrek’s tricorder, which was able to comprehensively diagnose obscure diseases. The standoff patient triage tool is a quantum leap forward for medical response, but science fiction remains on the big screen for the moment. The goal is to develop a handheld unit about the size of a legal notebook and as a thick as a ream of paper. Achieving this will require hardening of the unit, and further testing of optical stabilization technology to make sure the unit can function despite a responder’s arm and hand movements. Transition and commercialization could occur sometime mid to late 2010.
Press release: To Boldly Go Where No Medical Response Has Gone Before