Imagine a car that calls emergency services after a crash and helps them determine what sort of emergency care is needed.

That scenario has moved closer in the US with the news that the GM Foundation is partnering with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the CDC Foundation to develop procedures that will help emergency medical responders better and more quickly determine if a motorist needs care at a trauma centre after a vehicle crash.

CDC will convene a panel of more than 20 emergency medical physicians, trauma surgeons, public safety and vehicle safety experts to review real-time crash data from General Motors’ OnStar advanced automatic crash notification (AACN) vehicle telematic system and similar systems from other companies to help improve emergency transport and treatment of crash victims.

The panel meetings will be funded by a $US250,000 grant from OnStar and the GM Foundation to the CDC Foundation. As a federal agency, CDC does not promote or endorse specific products.

“For more than 10 years OnStar has been proud to work hand-in-hand with local medical and public safety communities to create tools to help reduce traffic fatalities and extend needed emergency care,” said Chet Huber, president of OnStar. “We are extremely excited to partner with the CDC Foundation and CDC in this ground breaking initiative that has the potential to dramatically impact the lives of our subscribers and all drivers.”

Using a collection of sensors, vehicle telemetry systems like OnStar send crash data to an advisor if the vehicle is involved in a moderate or severe front, rear or side-impact crash. Depending on the type of system, the data includes crash severity information, along with data on the direction of impact, air bag deployment, multiple impacts and a rollover (if equipped with appropriate sensors).

Advisors can relay this information to emergency dispatchers helping them to quickly determine the appropriate combination of emergency personnel, equipment and medical facilities needed.

“Providing emergency responders with vehicle crash information may help them make the appropriate field triage decisions, so crash victims can get to the right type of health care facility at the right time,” said Richard Hunt, director of CDC’s injury centre’s division of injury response. “CDC-supported research has shown that care at a trauma centre lowers the risk of death by 25% for severely injured patients compared with treatment received at a hospital without trauma care services. We look forward to working with the expert panel in cooperation with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to better understand how to use this technology to help the emergency medical community save lives.”

Traffic safety and emergency medical experts say data from vehicle telematic systems like AACN may be especially important in rural or isolated areas where there may not be a passer-by to report a crash and resources of a level I trauma centre are too far away to treat the kind of injuries sustained in severe crashes. For example, 60% of the nation’s fatalities are in rural areas, even though rural areas account for only 20% of total annual crashes.

“Time is a critical factor in trauma care,” said David Cone, president of the National Association of EMS Physicians. “The goal is to develop evidence-based protocols that will allow the emergency medical community to effectively use automotive telemetry data to assist in reducing morbidity and mortality through faster patient identification, diagnosis, and treatment.”

AACN, first introduced on the 2004 Chevy Malibu, evolved from airbag deployment notification systems, which alert OnStar advisors if a subscriber’s airbag has deployed. Airbag deployment notification systems have been on OnStar-equipped vehicles since 1997.