Upstate News

August 4, 2006
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

Study seeks to find whether viewing real time images of crash scenes helps to provide better care of trauma victims

Alfred Kahn, the noted U.S. economist, funds research study at SUNY Upstate

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – As part of a new study, SUNY Upstate Medical University physicians will use traffic surveillance cameras to view motor vehicle crashes and rescue operations on Central New York highways. The real-time view of crash scenes through a camera lens may provide emergency room physicians with information that may help them provide better care to crash victims when they arrive in the emergency room.

The study-believed to be the first of its kind in the nation-is being funded by the noted U.S. economist Alfred Kahn, who survived a car crash in 2003 and spent weeks recovering from his injuries at SUNY Upstate’s teaching hospital, University Hospital.

For the study, SUNY Upstate researchers will have access to nearly 20 closed-circuit video cameras installed in and around Syracuse by the New York state Department of Transportation (DOT). These cameras are monitored by the DOT’s Syracuse office 24 hours a day to assess traffic conditions in the area. The cameras, controlled by DOT personnel, can pan, tilt and zoom to particular areas of the roadway. Eleven cameras cover a 12-mile stretch of Interstate 81, from Route 481 South to Route 481 North; 8 additional cameras will be in place shortly to cover a 12-mile stretch of Interstate 690 from Van Vleck Road to Bridge Street.

A special receiving antenna brings the real time images into a specially outfitted workstation located near University Hospital’s trauma room. Here, medical personnel can view the crash scene and rescue efforts on a computer monitor. The technology for the workstation was provided by CXtec.

When a crash occurs, DOT personnel will alert SUNY Upstate researchers and refer them to a particular camera to view the crash. Once the image is available on the computer Researchers can begin recording the images and provide the DOT staff with instructions on whether to zoom or pan the camera.

“We think the ability to view real time images of the accident scene to see the extent of damage and the response from paramedics can provide us with a wealth of information that may help us better treat the accident victims when they arrive at the emergency room,” said John McCabe, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at SUNY Upstate.

Currently first responders to an accident scene communicate with physicians via radio about the extent of injuries of those being transported to the hospital. They may also provide physicians with information about what the accident scene looks like and relay information about the accident from eyewitness accounts, if available.

“The information we get from the scene is what we relay on to mobilize staff and equipment in the emergency room before the patient arrives,” McCabe said, “and often this information can be ambiguous.”

Such was the case several years ago, when a morning rush-hour crash involving three cars occurred on Interstate 90 near Syracuse. Initial reports that 23 people were involved in the crash sent University Hospital’s emergency room staff seeking to transfer existing emergency room patients to other locations and calling up extra emergency room personnel. Minutes later the report changed: only six patients were coming to the hospital.

“This is a good example of how being able to see the scene in real time and being able to communicate more closely with the emergency personnel at the scene, would have allowed our staff to better anticipate the patient needs,” McCabe said. “By viewing the scene, we would have been able to see early on that many of these individuals were ‘walking wounded’ and were not going to be coming to the hospital.”

Earlier studies done in the United States and abroad have shown that viewing photographic documentation of crash scenes, including vehicle damage, has provided benefit to physicians. Studies at East Carolina University and Albany Medical College have shown that emergency room physicians treat crash victims more aggressively when provided with photos of crash scenes. The studies also found that physicians who saw the photos noted the accidents were more severe than reports received by emergency medical personnel indicated.

Alfred Kahn originally had wanted to recognize the hospital for saving his life and directed his grateful patient donation to be used by the emergency department. When he was told that his donation would fund this study, he was elated.

“I wanted to recognize in some way the incredible care I received from University Hospital, and when I heard it was going to support this study, I thought it was a fitting way to benefit others involved in car crashes, he said. “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. As chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board (1977 to 1978), he authored the United States Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, which led to lower fares and higher airline productivity. The act lifted government controls on the airline industry giving airlines more maneuverability in determining fares and service areas. Kahn also served as chairman of the New York state Public Service Commission. He currently is a senior consultant the National Economic Research Associates and the Robert Julius Thorne Professor Emeritus of Political Economy at Cornell University.

Kahn was on his way home to the Ithaca, N.Y.,-area from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., when he lost control of his the car. He recalls sitting in his overturned car suspended by his seatbelt and seeing rescue personnel outside his car window.

Kahn said he is thankful of quick action taken by everyone to save his life and put him back together. “I think that’s why I am so taken by the possibilities of this study,” he said. “If the technology is available to us and we can use it in a way that might provide physicians and others with an even better understanding of the accident scene and, in turn, enhance medical care to people like me, then let’s do it.”

Officials at CXtec, the company that donated the monitoring equipment, said the project is an important one for them to be involved in. “CXtec is very pleased to be able to contribute to this important and potentially lifesaving research study,” said Barbara Ashkin, vice president & chief operating officer of CXtec. This type of project underscores the important role that technology can play in making a safer world.”

New York State Department of Transportation Regional Director Carl F. Ford, P.E. said “We are happy to be able to partner with Upstate Medical University researchers in this study, by providing access to live video feeds from our Freeway Management System cameras,” he said. “Working with DOT staff in our Traffic Management Center, these images may be able to provide emergency room physicians with critical information that can improve the level of care they provide crash victims. We are glad to assist physicians and first responders in this worthwhile effort.”

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