Triage technology comes with a Star Trek twist, at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science & Technology Directorate (DHS S&T).
Determining who needs medical care at the scene of a disaster is still pretty old-fashioned: emergency responders bent over a victim, checking body temperature, heart rate, and muscle movement. Up close and personal, the entire process can take 3-5 minutes per person.
“Human nature is to pay attention to those who are screaming and bleeding, but someone with a less obvious internal injury may be the real top priority,” said Greg Price, Director of S&T’s Tech Solutions, whose office is managing a new DHS S&T project. “In the case of large-scale triage, it is not always the squeaky wheel that needs the grease,” he says.
In partnership with the Technical Support Working Group (TSWG), Boeing and Washington University’s School of Medicine in St. Louis, S&T’s Tech Solutions group is developing the Standoff Patient Triage Tool (SPTT), a device that classic Star Trek fans will recognize for its resemblance to the medical diagnostic tool known as the tricorder.
Because time is the most precious resource in a crisis, every second shaved can be a life-saver. With this in mind, S&T wants to make a revolutionary leap forward in triage. Why not 30 seconds per person? And why not from a distance?
“We thought, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be nice if a responder, fully clothed in an emergency suit, could have a technology to take vital signs quickly from 5 to 40 feet away?’” said Price.
Like the tricorder, SPTT takes key physiological readings necessary to any diagnosis —pulse, body temperature, and respiration. It’s triage at twenty paces.