A brightly painted ambulance sits parked on the side of a rural road surrounded by many trees.

Harnessing FirstNet to enhance EMS response and improve patient care

With the arrival of FirstNet, emergency physicians, paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) now have access to the nation’s first wireless broadband network dedicated to emergency communications with advanced broadband capabilities.

As the emergency medical field continues to adopt more complex assessment and diagnostic tools, reliable broadband is more important than ever to access actionable information when administering remote care via community para-medicine programs and mobile integrated healthcare.

FirstNet provides a reliable communication backbone – a dedicated “fast lane” – that connects emergency response officials to the information they need most to make improved clinical and operational decisions. FirstNet is being built and deployed by AT&T through a public-private partnership with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority), an independent agency within the federal government.

Building FirstNet from the ground up. FirstNet is being built out with the FirstNet Authority’s Band 14 spectrum – high quality bandwidth dedicated exclusively to public safety use – plus AT&T’s LTE bandwidth. Band 14 connects first responders to specialized features not currently offered on other commercial networks – such as priority access, preemptive status, more network capacity, and a resilient, hardened connection.

With Band 14 spectrum available in nearly 650 markets, the spectrum’s added coverage and capacity extends across larger geographic regions to connect rural and remote areas, and it improves signal strength that can penetrate buildings in densely populated urban centers. These unique capabilities allow first responders nationwide to communicate and coordinate with their emergency response partners like never before.

A network that’s available when you need it most. During emergencies when standard commercial networks are flooded by heavy public use, FirstNet’s reliable connection can make all the difference in administering lifesaving care. As commercial networks become overloaded and unusable, EMS and other public safety users are treated the same as other commercial network users. When this happens, emergency communications can come to a standstill due to congestion and overcapacity issues. With FirstNet, congestion and overcapacity issues do not impact emergency communications. By providing first responders with guaranteed priority and preemption for emergency communications, FirstNet delivers emergency room physicians, EMS personnel, and other first responders immediate preemptive access to the network, allowing their essential communication to come first.

FirstNet’s added-value. FirstNet is delivering more than just a wireless connection.  For the first time, the network’s robust and reliable connection also make it possible for emergency physicians and technicians to connect to innovative life-saving technologies that allow them to fully assess a patient’s information in the field, such as:

  • Drone programs that send defibrillators, medicine or blood to administer faster treatment at remote locations; 
  • Patient monitoring technology that sends a patient’s vital signs including high quality audio or  patient breath sounds to emergency physicians and emergency room staff; 
  • “Smart” ambulances that house new diagnostic tools, such as point of care ultrasound and mobile stroke units to enhance decision-making and treatment capability; and
  • Community para-medicine programs that deliver better quality care in rural or remote areas.

Growing the FirstNet App Store. FirstNet subscribers have the added benefit of gaining access to the FirstNet App Catalog, a mobile app store for EMS, law enforcement, firefighters, emergency management, and other public safety users filled with innovative solutions to support first responders during routine and emergency calls.

At last count, more than 90 iOS and Android apps are available in the FirstNet App Catalog. Once an app is available in the FirstNet App Catalog, it means that it has met the public safety criteria, including the security and data privacy conditions to be listed in the catalog. 

FirstNet Today. Just over a year and a half into FirstNet’s five-year buildout, AT&T has added FirstNet’s dedicated spectrum (Band 14) across the United States. And nearly 9,000 public safety agencies are using more than 750,000 device connections for their every day and emergency operations. As FirstNet continues to expand nationwide, the FirstNet Authority is working to ensure that the network and its unique capabilities are available when and where emergency responders need it — not just in urban areas, but in rural regions as well.

Only now is emergency medicine beginning to realize the full potential and promise of FirstNet in EMS care. It is up to our EMS physician leaders to pave the way on how to best use FirstNet to benefit the future of patient care.  

If your travel plans include attending ACEP 2019 in October, please stop by the FirstNet Authority Booth #2211.  In the meantime, be on the lookout for the latest FirstNet Authority blogs, podcasts, press releases and the EMS newsletter that highlight the latest in EMS care!

For any questions about FirstNet or how the network can enhance your practice, please reach out to me directly at Brent.Williams@firstnet.gov.


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