Telemedicine lands primetime spot on Discovery Channel's Shark Week

By Laura Lovett
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Photo credit: Big Wave Ptns

Update: The telemedicine scene referred to in this article was cut from the US version of "Sharkwrecked." It will still be in the international version. 
Correction: The survivalists blew up a boat. A previous version of this article misstated that the divers were in an inflatable boat. 

Telemedicine is getting a cameo on Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. Set to premier tomorrow night, the show "Sharkwrecked" is set in shark infested waters of the Bahamas and features a pair of “survival experts” who agreed to spend two days in the open sea without food or water after blowing up a boat with explosives. 

Needless to say, the situation prompted a host of medical concerns, from dehydration to drowning. So a medical team followed behind to keep an eye on the reality TV stars, allowing telemedicine technologies a spot on primetime. 

Paramedics used the Dictum Health’s VER (virtual exam room) to help treat everything from severe injuries to headaches during the filming of the show. 

“VER-MEDIC gave me the ability to do complicated differential diagnoses such as a neurological issue [versus] an ear trauma squeeze. This was a big thing on show. One diver presented nausea, vomiting, and ear pain. I broke out the VER-MEDIC to do a differential and decide if it was an emergency,” Mike Hudson, lead paramedic on Sharkwrecked and 20-year ocean rescue specialist, wrote in an email to MobiHealthNews. “The VER-MEDIC gives me the ability to look at multiple facets of assessment with that one piece of equipment, from eyes, ears, nose, throat to basic vital signs, and neurologic deficits. I could have recorded and sent them straight to Divers Alert Network, if I had to.” 

In addition to the ability to call a doctor, the system has multiple functions including the ability to assess lung sounds, take vitals, monitor ECG, and assess pain levels. Paramedics could then send information and photos to doctors who could remotely monitor patients. Although not used on the show, the system also has the ability to video conference with doctors and specialists who can then diagnose patients faster. EMTs can also send multiple data points and medical images. 

“This was useful in monitoring skin breakdown and wounds. One diver was an amputee and he had significant breakdown of ends of the amputation,” Hudson wrote. “I was able to take pictures at various stages and keep track of infection and store the data to share with a physician.” 

The team didn’t need to call a physician while on site, but Hudson noted that because he hasn’t called a doctor yet, that means they’ll know it is an emergency when he does call. 

Shark-infested waters is just one extreme condition where medical teams have employed telehealth. For example, in January, the US Army launched the Army Virtual Medical Center at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas.
 
“The concept of the Virtual Medical Center is to take specialists from across the [military health system] and take their knowledge and expertise and put it at the point of need — whether it be in the mountains of Afghanistan or the backyard of Camp Bullis in San Antonio,” Major Daniel Yourk, deputy director of clinical operations at the Army Virtual Medical Center, said at ATA 2018.

Those services were used in a deployment to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. But at the time Yourk cited connectivity as a limiting factor. 

The VER used during Sharkweek got around connectivity issues by being powered by AT&T. In an email to MobiHealthNews, Tad Reynes, regional vice president of healthcare solutions at AT&T, said the company has been involved with connecting a number of devices used in ambulatory settings. 

However, this is certainly the first time the technology has been used during Sharkweek. 

"Our paramedic team has an extreme challenge to monitor the health of our entire team, from the safety of divers to the show’s participants, and all from a remote location,” Nick Stringer, producer and director at Big Wave Productions, said in a statement. “It was brilliant to have the bright yellow VER-MEDIC to bring healthcare into the most extreme environments. We’ve been waiting for something like this for a long time — the paramedic team now has the capability to remotely monitor the health of the team engaged in risky missions.”

Sharkwreck will premier on July 26 at 9 pm ET on the Discovery Channel.