Iowa DOT sponsors TraumaHawk app to help save lives

TraumahawkA smartphone app sponsored by the Iowa DOT and developed by the University of Iowa is being used to enhance communication between first responders and emergency room staff at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Use of the app by eastern Iowa law enforcement and first responders is part of a research study of emergency response times. 

The app, known as TraumaHawk, was first released in 2013 for use by Iowa State Patrol troopers and advanced life support paramedics in the area around Iowa City. The app provides a way for law enforcement and first responders to collect a half-dozen very specific photos of a crashed vehicle that are automatically sent to emergency room personnel.

Researchers at the University of Iowa say having advance notice of crash severity and location can help save lives. Daniel V. McGehee, Ph.D., project principal investigator and director of the Human Factors and Vehicle Safety Research Division at the UI Public Policy Center and adjunct professor of emergency medicine and mechanical/industrial engineering at the UI, said, “This is the first time we are beaming vehicle damage imagery from the field into the emergency rooms. Based upon how a vehicle is crumpled, we can begin to predict what the injuries might be to the crash victims.”

With that advance notice, emergency rooms can more thoroughly prepare for incoming victims. In the past, ER staff were notified of the condition of a patient only minutes prior to arrival. With the TraumaHawk app loaded on an iPad in the ER, an alarm sounds when images are being relayed. Staff can then view the images directly from the crash scene.

McGehee notes that unlike similar studies that focused primarily on information technology, the current project also develops on-the-scene training of law enforcement and first responders for recording photographic evidence and training of emergency room personnel in how to interpret the information collected. 

A key part of the project is that it doesn’t merely send photos, it allows trained professionals to assess patterns of injury based upon crush and intrusion patterns of the damaged vehicle. McGehee said, “For example, if there is a high-speed, side-impact crash where there is more than 12 inches of intrusion into the occupant compartment, there is a high probability of a pelvic fracture, especially if there is a raised center console in the vehicle.”














As part of the research, the traditional process for trauma alerts was examined for estimated time of arrival data for a one-month period. Timing for the TraumaHawk alerts during the same time period relative to actual ETA was also examined.

During the study period, 32 cases were studied. Of these 32, the time between the trauma team receiving initial information and patient arrival was 12 minutes; for TraumaHawk, the advanced notice was received at the trauma center 26 minutes before patient arrival, more than doubling notification time. 

McGehee said the app has been in use for about a year and remains in the evaluation phase.

 (Elements of this post were adapted from


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