JACKSON, Miss. — The University of Mississippi Medical Center will conduct research with a federal group to improve how emergency workers use mobile internet to provide medical care in rural areas.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith watched Wednesday as the agreement between the medical center and the First Responder Network Authority was signed in Jackson.
The authority, a federal agency known as FirstNet, is overseeing the building of a nationwide network to provide mobile phone and internet communications to police, fire, medical and other emergency agencies. Its board met later Wednesday in Jackson.
Dr. Damon Darsey, who directs the Mississippi Center for Emergency Services, said the idea is that lessons learned in Mississippi could be shared nationwide. He said the change could be as important as when Mississippi built a statewide emergency radio network after 2005′s Hurricane Katrina. He said, for example, it might be possible for a physician at a hospital to read heart measurements while an emergency medical technician is examining a patient at home or in an ambulance.
“We can take some of the hospital stuff and push it out to the field,” Darsey said.
Medical center officials said the network could also make it possible for physicians to direct some cases to local hospitals, instead of transporting them to trauma centers in Jackson or elsewhere.
“Sometimes, lifesaving activity, if it has to be delayed until the next trauma center down the road, it’s too far,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs at the medical center.
AT&T is building and operating FirstNet’s network under a 25-year contract. Ed Parkinson, the interim CEO of FirstNet, said the new network is about 40 percent deployed nationwide, with more than 5,000 agencies signed up. It’s being financed by $7 billion in airwaves the federal government sold, with future payments scheduled from AT&T.
The promise of the network is that it puts emergency personnel first in line to use cell towers, making sure they’re not displaced by congested civilian signals.
“To deal with emergency situations, high-speed data transfer and communications among first responders is clearly the top priority,” Ross said. “But in too many states, a rural broadband emergency response network just doesn’t exist,” Ross said.