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Red Cross Turns to Telehealth for Emergency Care

In a sign of the growing value of mHealth in emergencies, the organization is partnering with Teladoc to give disaster victims a digital link to healthcare.

By Eric Wicklund

- The Red Cross is taking on a telehealth partner in an effort to expand access to healthcare during emergencies.

The organization is partnering with Texas-based Teladoc to make the company’s phone- and web-based services available to victims of disasters. During and after such an event, victims can use the app to connect with Teladoc clinicians.

“Telehealth is on track to play a major role in the future of disaster risk reduction,” Mary Casey-Lockyer, the organization’s senior associate for disaster health services, said in a press release. “It is our hope that this collaboration will serve as a conduit toward closing a gap in services during events, as well as in the days, weeks and months afterward.”

Teladoc is one of a growing number of companies using mHealth to provide emergency and triage care, most often by providing first responders with the means to link to healthcare providers through an app or telehealth link. Companies like Beyond Lucid, Medstar and LifeBot have focused on equipping EMS and ambulance services with mHealth capabilities during emergencies, while larger health systems have worked to make their services virtual during large-scale disasters, including the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and Hurricane Katrina.

"In a disaster as devastating as what transpired … at the Boston Marathon, health information technologies and mobile devices can play a critical role in the timely transmission of vital data and long-term patient care and monitoring," Chuck Parker, former executive director of the Continua Health Alliance, said in the wake of the bombing. "As we have seen in other disaster response efforts, end-to-end, plug-and-play interoperability of personal connected health devices and systems has helped to save lives, valuable time and money."

Recently, a team at the University of Illinois College of Medicine developed an app for use by airline personnel during an in-flight medical emergency. mHealth experts say such a resource could prove vital in emergencies in remote locations like wilderness expeditions, oil rigs, large ranches or farms, cruise ships, even space.

And the Red Cross may want to consider its new partnership in the context of dealing with disasters overseas. mHealth and telehealth companies have proven their value in getting emergency care to earthquake victims in Haiti and Italy and tsunami survivors in Thailand, as well as helping in the response to and containment of the Ebola outbreak in sub-Saharan Africa.

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