On Wednesday, November 18th, we sat down with Dr. David Shulkin, Former US Secretary of Veterans Affairs, for an invigorating conversation about 911’s evolving role in healthcare. Hosted by Eugene Hsu, MD, MBA, RapidSOS’ Head of Healthcare, the webinar touched on a variety of topics relevant to healthcare today.
Breaking down barriers between healthcare providers
After leaving the VA in 2018, Secretary Shulkin went to pursue several projects in pursuit of his commitment to improving healthcare and mental health resources for veterans. He joined RapidSOS in 2020 to help guide our expansion into the healthcare industry.
“Anything that can help take fragmented parts of our healthcare system and create a more integrated approach is of interest to me…when you look at our EMS system, it’s a patchwork coordinated system without a coordinated plan.”
Secretary Shulkin believes that emergency response is one of several gateways to the healthcare system. However, he acknowledges that EMS is by and large a “patchwork coordinated system,” where standards, resources, and capacity varies by county and state line. Large-scale public health crises like COVID-19 have highlighted the need to improve our disaster response infrastructure, from first responders in the field to doctors in the ER.
The largest barrier exists at the moment of intake: first responders rely on antiquated technology to field emergency calls from people in need. They can only receive information the caller verbally articulates about their incident. If a caller is panicked, scared, or unable to speak, 911 telecommunicators have to rely on a variety of workarounds, including sending first responders anyway, to dispatch care.
“There’s a disconnect between what people’s beliefs are and the reality is…it’s reinforced by pop culture and TV shows. We can track our kids on iPhones easily, why shouldn’t EMS be able to do the same thing?”
However, in the time of COVID-19, 911 has to be smart about how they triage emergency resources, including PPE. Without data, first responders run the risk of exposing themselves to dangerous situations, while potentially arriving in the wrong place, or with the wrong equipment.
An integrated approach, wherein first responders are better equipped with data and tools to deliver the right care at the right time, is how Secretary Shulkin envisions breaking down these barriers. By sharing data with first responders during emergencies, and creating a continuity of information between emergency responders and healthcare professionals, we can save more lives.
David Shulkin on 911 and mental health crises
“There’s been for too long an under recognition of the connection between physical health and mental health…we often do not understand the true morbidity associated with behavioral health issues.”
In the last decade, the connection between physical and mental health has become top of mind for healthcare professionals. However, suicide rates, particularly among vulnerable groups like veterans, continue to rise. Secretary Shulkin has devoted much of his career to finding innovative ways to tackle this crisis. He believes RapidSOS is crucial to helping organizations like the VA Crisis Line safeguard our veterans’ mental health, and offer them meaningful help and protection when they need it most.
Improving the prehospital experience, whether it’s by promoting preventative treatments, or by improving the quality of emergency response, can make a huge difference in healthcare outcomes.
“We’ve been talking about this whole time between how you have to think about the prehospital experience as part of an overall good quality healthcare.”
The RapidSOS impact
“So we clearly have had a problem of having an antiquated EMS system, one that was not taking advantage of all the technology that was available in large part, because these are 21,000 different agencies trying to do this rather than a single one.”
The disjointed nature of the 911 system makes solving a challenge like making emergency data actionable and interoperable extremely difficult. Even if one agency adopts new technology, it won’t protect people across county lines. To overcome this, the RapidSOS emergency response data platform helps to share life-saving emergency data to 911 agencies from connected devices, platforms, and sensors within their jurisdiction.
Agencies can access this information in several ways, to ensure this data can be actionable within their workflows. Secretary Shulkin believes that by offering these tools nationwide, we can work around the institutional challenges that come with upgrading 911, similar to how he overcame the institutional challenges of sharing veterans’ health data between the VA and the department of defense.