Online Tool Helps First Responders ID Hazardous Chemicals

Exposure to hazardous chemicals can cause serious illness quickly, but emergency medical providers often don’t know the key piece of information that determines treatment: Which of the tens of thousands of toxic chemicals is making patients sick?

A new online tool will help paramedics, nurses, emergency physicians and other first responders more rapidly identify the group of chemicals causing patients to become ill. This will allow them to begin treatment sooner during large-scale toxic chemical exposures caused by accidents or terrorist attacks.

Mark Kirk, MD, an associate professor of emergency medicine with the University of Virginia Health System who also works for the Department of Homeland Security, led the development of the Chemical Hazards Emergency Medical Management Intelligent Syndromes Tool (CHEMM-IST) with members of the National Library of Medicine.

How CHEMM-IST helps first responders

The tool works by dividing toxic chemicals into groups based on the symptoms they cause, Kirk says. First responders answer a series of questions about the symptoms patients are experiencing. CHEMM-IST uses those answers to determine which group of chemicals is most likely causing the illness, recommend initial treatments and detail how rescue workers should protect themselves against exposure to the chemicals.

First responders armed with this information can safely begin providing the most effective treatment sooner before the hazardous chemical is precisely identified, which can help provide better outcomes for patients and may help save victims’ lives. “CHEMM-IST helps you fill that knowledge gap until you know exactly what you’re dealing with,” he says.

CHEMM-IST, which is part of the National Library of Medicine’s broader Chemical Hazards Emergency Medical Management program, is now undergoing validation and testing by emergency medical personnel. Smart phone applications will soon be available to make it easier for emergency medical workers to access the tool at the scene of a chemical exposure.

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