Doctors Say Remote Videos Could Speed Care for Crash Victims

By William Kates | August 11, 2006

Traffic surveillance cameras set up along two of Syracuse, New York’s busiest highways may help doctors save lives.

The cameras will provide emergency room doctors at Upstate Hospital with real-time views of crash scenes and firsthand information they hope will help them treat accident victims better and more quickly, said Dr. John McCabe, a professor and chairman of the hospital’s Department of Emergency Medicine.

A long-term study of the cameras’ use is being funded by noted economist Alfred Kahn, who survived a car crash in 2003 and spent weeks recovering from his injuries at Upstate, which is part of the State University of New York’s Upstate Medical University.

“We have a theoretic idea that seems to make good sense on face value. We need to see if it can work in a real emergency room,” McCabe said.

The road surveillance will be provided by more than two dozen closed-circuit video cameras installed by the state Department of Transportation covering 32 miles of Interstates 81 and 690, the main traffic corridors through Syracuse. Each camera has a line-of-sight of up to three or four miles, said Jay Scott, an Upstate paramedic and project manager.

The cameras are monitored 24 hours a day to assess traffic conditions. Controlled by transportation department workers, the cameras can pan, tilt and zoom to particular areas of the roadway.

“The quality is high-end streaming video. It’s like looking at it through a window,” Scott said.

While the resolution doesn’t allow viewers to read a license plate, it can show whether a person has been thrown from a vehicle or is trapped, he said.

An antenna brings the real-time images into a workstation near the emergency room where doctors can view a crash scene and rescue efforts on a computer monitor.

By viewing a scene, doctors can get a better idea of the nature and severity of injuries, giving them a head start to gather the necessary specialists, equipment and medicines to treat the victims, McCabe said.

First responders typically communicate with doctors using radios and cell phones, offering their observations about the extent of injuries and details about the accident scene. But that information is often ambiguous and, occasionally, even wrong, McCabe said.

Previous studies have shown that viewing photographic documentation of crash scenes, including vehicle damage, has benefited physicians. Studies at East Carolina University and Albany Medical Center have shown that emergency room physicians treat crash victims more aggressively when provided photos of crash scenes.

Several years ago, doctors at Upstate gave instant cameras to emergency responders so they could take snapshots of accident scenes. Using live video is an outgrowth of that effort, McCabe said.

Kahn said he contributed $25,000 to be used by the emergency department because he wanted to recognize the hospital for saving his life. Scott said the donation covered the computer infrastructure and link the transportation department and hospital systems.

“It seems a perfect use of the money,” said Kahn. “If we can use the incredible technology we have at our disposal today in a way that can help save more lives, than supporting a project such as this is a wise investment.”

Kahn is perhaps best known as the father of airline deregulation. He was chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board from 1977 to 1978. He also served as chairman of the state Public Service Commission. He is currently a consultant and professor emeritus at Cornell University.

Kahn was on his way home to Ithaca, N.Y. in 2003 when he lost control of his car. He said he recalled sitting in his overturned car, suspended by his seatbelt and seeing rescuers outside his car window.

“I think that’s why I am so taken by the possibilities of this study,” he said.

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