The device helping STARS Air Ambulance give care in rural Manitoba

For centuries, the stethoscope has been one of a doctor’s best tools which allows them to hear what’s going on inside the body.

But when you’re in a helicopter, a stethoscope is useless. That is why air medical teams have a different tool at hand, one that has the potential to bring better care to rural and remote Manitobans.

“It’s kind of dubbed as the new stethoscope of the 21st century if you will,” said Dr. Tom Jelic, a STARS Air Ambulance transport physician and an attending ER physician at Health Sciences Center Winnipeg and St. Boniface Hospital.

The device, called a point-of-care ultrasound or POCUS, is about the size of a human hand. The probe plugs into an iPhone allowing the medical team to see inside a patient’s body in seconds. The information can steer the air ambulance to take patients from wherever they are in Manitoba to the appropriate hospital.

“It’s pretty eye opening when you go to rural sites in Manitoba is a lot of places don’t have basic diagnostic imaging. So simple things like an X-ray that we take for granted at HSC or St. Boniface. They don’t have that,” Jelic said.

He is now a part of project ARCTICA, research working to get POCUS into the hands of rural and remote health care providers on the ground.

One problem though, training people traditionally would mean taking a doctor, nurse or doctors assistant out of their community

“It essentially leaves the community potentially understaffed or under-resourced for a period of time while that individual undergoes training. So the thought was how can we kind of meld those two problems and fix them?”

The fix is ​​teaching people through a series of online videos and remotely teaching new skills while also providing real-time support. Jelic compares it to a phone-a-friend service.

“If there is something you’re not sure what you’re looking at or something you want a second set of eyes on, there is going to be an expert that you can contact that can hopefully, kind of, support our rural and remote communities in Manitoba,” Jelic said.

ARCTICA is also hoping to show just how powerful POCUS can be.

“If we can keep people in their home communities and manage them safely and identify those patients who do need to be taken out and medevaced sooner, we anticipate the patient impact will be and the impact, I believe, will be pretty significant.”

After using POCUS himself for seven years, Jelic said he can’t imagine practicing medicine without it.

He added that a handful of Winnipeg doctors have completed the video training and were able to start using the ultrasound competently in about a month. He said point of care ultrasound probes have been sent to Cross Lake and Garden Hill.

Winnipeg is one site of the ARCTICA study, which is based at Queen’s University.

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