The Laguna Beach Fire Department is leaving the paper trail behind at emergency scenes.
The department's 50 or so firefighters have started to use iPads to record and submit patient data from the site of an emergency to hospitals and ambulance companies.
The LBFD owns nine iPads, which all firefighters use on a rotating basis. Users can type in a patient's name, age and nature of the injury and, with a tap, transmit data to doctors, often before the person arrives at the hospital.
Firefighters can also take pictures of the scene, which Api Weinert, the department's emergency medical services trainer and division chief, said helps doctors even more because they can see, for example, whether a patient fell 10 feet or 50 feet.
"Medical emergencies are extremely time-sensitive," said Weinert. "The doctor might have to get the MRI machine up and running. Minutes and seconds make a difference."
At Hoag Hospital in nearby Newport Beach, doctors and nurses are able to pull up the data that firefighters send.
Computers on portable stations can be wheeled from room to room, said Tammy Valencia, Hoag's base hospital coordinator.
Valencia, who has worked at Hoag for nine years, trains mobile intensive care nurses and educates paramedics on county emergency medical services policies.
"Emergency departments are so impacted, [this technology] allows us to gauge if we need to make a bed ready right away," Valencia said. "It's been amazing. [Paramedics] can post information ... which can tell us the type of patient and how long until they arrive."
The department was already using the tablets for home and business inspections, but for the past year has started using them on medical calls.
Speed is one of the advantages.
"Going from paper to this, it takes less than half the time," Weinart said, adding that personnel can tap out all relevant patient information in about five minutes.
The city purchased the nine iPads in May 2011 at a cost of $955 each, including the warranty, said Laguna Beach fire Chief Jeff LaTendresse.
The department was scheduled to receive 12 additional iPads this week from a $500,000 grant, according to Tricia Landquist, the Orange County Health Care Agency's public information officer.
Weinert emphasized that the department takes the utmost care in protecting patient privacy.
Users must enter passwords and information is encrypted. The tablets are programmed to carry records only for five patients at a time.
And the devices have apparently resulted in savings.
"We're not buying as many pens," Weinert said.