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June 17, 2011

Texas doc creating a 'social network of health care'

The Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON — During his days as a physician, Mohamed Taha's work settings ranged from offshore oilrigs to a school system in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Mohamed "Kojak" Taha tends to get excited when he talks about work. The company he launched with his wife, Hana Taha, is in the process of launching an online service that they believe could streamline ambulance service globally. EMSpal is designed to allow hospitals, nursing homes and other health-care facilities to post ambulance service requests online.

The health-care providers then will be able to assign the job to the responding ambulance service that best meets their needs. The idea is to make it quicker and easier for health-care providers to arrange ambulance transports while providing EMS providers more job opportunities, Taha said.

"We are not replacing the existing service," the 55-year-old Spring resident said. "We are adding an additional communication layer that is easy to use."

Taha, who was a physician in his native Egypt, has completed post-graduate studies in computer science.

In 1998, after coming to the United States as a newlywed and tourist, he realized he wanted to make his life here. At that time, he chose not to pursue licensing to practice medicine in the United States and instead has worked over the years in graphic and web page design, computer systems and software design, and photo restoration.

Taha and Hana now have two children, Joseph, 10, and Sophia, 11. "They're my best friends," Taha said.

He looked into the role of emergency medical services at the recommendation of a friend several years ago and found it a good fit. "It is exciting," he said. "It's the speed, the diesel, the patients. It's saving lives, to be there in time and take that person to safety."

After completing his training and building experience as an emergency medical technician, he launched his own ambulance company in 2008. But as a participant in the emergency medical services system, Taha started observing areas where technology could have a positive impact.

"I started taking notes," he said. "While I was in the hospital, I noticed staff on the fourth floor looking for ambulance service while on the ground an ambulance was there unengaged."

He also learned that health-care providers in small communities sometimes had to wait an hour or longer for ambulance transport services. He wondered about a system that could locate a broader base of ambulance drivers in the region.

"It's complicated," Taha said. "I started seeing a lot of imperfections in the existing system. And getting EMSPal to simplify that system was not easy at all."

Taha started conducting more research and speaking to other providers and inspectors in the field. Eventually, he concluded the best response to the industry's needs would be an online ambulance service platform that would complement the existing 9-1-1 communications system.

He and Hana officially formed EMSPal in 2009 with Hana as president and CEO and Taha as COO.
The technology team they assembled has been building, analyzing and testing their platform since that time. It didn't take long, Taha said, to realize the program not only had local implications, but it could be used globally.

"Anyone can use this anywhere," he said. Taha and Hana are convinced that more people in the health-care and ambulance industries will embrace EMSPal once they see it in action. "Once they accept the concept this will take off exponentially," Hana said. "We'll be the social network of health care. We're bringing the two providers together online."

The system breaks service requests into categories, based on their urgency. Once the system is in use, participating health-care providers will be able to post a service request to all of the ambulance services within their geographic area.

The ambulance services will receive the request notifications immediately by computer and cell phone and will have the option of offering service with an estimated time of arrival.

As responses are posted on the health-care provider's interface, they will display the ambulance services' ratings, based on their past performance with the service. The service will be free to health-care providers.

EMS providers will be asked to share a percentage of their income from resulting jobs. The Tahas are adding GPS technology to the system and seeking additional investors.

Copyright 2011 The Houston Chronicle Publishing Company

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