A number of ambulance teams in Lithuania were cut off from the data transmission software on Friday night, which resulted in serious delays in responding to emergency calls. The malfunction may have been a result of a feud between competing software providers, LRT Investigation Team reports.
On Friday night, seven ambulance service teams – of Varėna, Prienai, Tauragė, Telšiai, Vilkaviškis, Mažeikiai and Neringa – could not access dispatch information on their computers and tablets.
Ambulance teams use tablets to receive information about emergency calls, access patients' medical history and fill out forms to be handed over to hospitals.
Due to the disruption, emergency alerts took up to 1.5 hours to reach the ambulance teams.
LRT Investigation Team has found that three of Lithuania's five emergency dispatchers – in Kaunas, Šiauliai and Klaipėda – use software provided by a company named Tarptautinė Skubiosios Medicinos Akademija (International Emergency Medicine Academy, TSMA) to transmit data to ambulance teams.
The seven ambulances that were disconnected use software by another provider, Atvira Karta (Open Generation). Others, that used TSMA's equipment and software, did not experience any disruptions.
Sources, who asked to remain anonymous, have told LRT Investigation Team that TSMA, owned by three influential medical doctors, was thus trying to push competitors out of the way and take over business servicing emergency dispatchers in Kaunas, Klaipėda and Šiauliai.
TSMA is owned by Dinas Vaitkaitis, Paulius Dobožinskas and Nedas Jasinskas.
On the eve of the malfunction, the company had delivered new tablets to the seven ambulance teams. However, the paramedics were not instructed what to do with them or explained why they should give up their old ones.
Ingrida Lukoševičienė, a senior nurse at Varėna Primary Healthcare Centre, says on Friday paramedics put the new tablets away and took their old equipment. However, in the evening she received a call from the centre's IT specialist who said there was no connection with the emergency dispatcher.
Similar problems were experienced by the other six ambulance teams. Information about emergency calls had to be forwarded via radiophone and paramedics used pen and paper to enter patient data.
According to LRT Investigation Team's sources, the disruption was an attempt by TSMA to use the general confusion during the coronavirus epidemic and push out competition.
“Someone comes and, without any public tendering, hands out tablets and says: now you must use these. [...] To change software [used by emergency dispatchers], you need to have a public tender. In this case, it was a deliberate takeover of a service provision,” according to one source.
Representatives of Atvira Karta told LRT Investigation Team that its contract with emergency dispatchers was still valid, but the three dispatcher units were ordered to stop transmitting data to the equipment provided by the company. Allegedly, this was a way to force the ambulances to switch to new equipment provided by TSMA.
According to Arūnas Franckevičius, the head of Atvira Karta, the push came from Nerijus Mikelionis who heads the Kaunas emergency dispatcher station and is the president of the Emergency Medical Services Association.
Mikelionis rejected the accusations, saying the dispatchers were transmitting data as usual.
“Everything we have to transmit to ambulances is being transmitted, disruptions may arise from tablets provided by a third party,” he told LRT Investigation Team.
The dispatcher stations in Kaunas, Šiauliai and Klaipėda denied that there were any disruptions in transmitting emergency calls.
In a written statement, the Ministry of Health said the data transmission interruption resulted from Atvira Karta's actions.
“Atvira Karta, which is a subcontractor of the principal service provider TSMI and has no direct contact with the Ministry of Health, informed TSMA on April 2 about the end of their cooperation or, alternatively, offered twice higher rates for the service and equipment,” according to a written statement.
Atvira Karta countered the claim by saying that it was a direct service provider to seven emergency dispatcher units and a subcontractor for the rest. Its contract with TSMA expired a year ago and the latter has been delaying to renew it, while still supplying Atvira Karta's software as its own, according to the company.
LRT Investigation Team has not been able to reach TSMA for comment.