When Seconds Count
Large healthcare system speeds caller response, emergency call handling.
- By Chris Helm
- Sep 02, 2009
When an emergency call is received at the communications center
of the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region in Regina, Saskatchewan,
it could be originating from across the hall or from hundreds
of miles away.
The Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region is the largest healthcare delivery system
in southern Saskatchewan. In diverse communities stretching across the region,
nearly a half million residents call this 135,000-square-kilometer area home. Communities
range in size from tiny Fleming with a population of 95 to Regina with
In addition to serving the communications needs of the organization, Regina's
Regional Communications Centre also provides emergency dispatch services to
their region and three others. From their facility in Regina, the unit answers approximately
150,000 service requests annually, including more than 42,000 emergency
calls. The four communications specialists at the center can deploy 40 ambulance
services, 76 fire departments and 80 first-responder teams, serving more than
130 communities in southern Saskatchewan.
A Growing Problem
In 2006, the management team determined they needed to reassess their role in the
region, including the possibility that growing demand for emergency call services
might force them to roll back service availability to certain areas. By analyzing
trends, the team noticed a growing number of calls were compounded by expanding
communications technologies such as cell phones and the Internet—and realized
that the call volume in their center would continue to be a challenge.
"Regina faced the same issues that many of our customers see every day,"
said Brenda Wurst, Amcom Software product manager. "The ability to quickly summon help, made possible by the explosive growth of cell phones and other technologies, is having an amazing, life-saving impact on millions of people.
"On the practical side, it also adds to the huge increase in calls going through
emergency call centers. I don't think anyone would be able to handle this kind of
fast-growing call volume without the use of technology. The only alternative is to
add personnel at a pace that no health system could ever afford."
The High-Tech Solution
Rather than reduce critical services to the region, Kim Gutwin, superintendent of
the center, formed a team that explored ways to save time and cost. Their search
led them to Amcom Software.
Gutwin and the team decided to implement Amcom e.Notify software in their
communications center. The center's network takes advantage of nearly every
communications technology: pagers, telephones—both home and business land
lines, including TDM and VoIP, as well as cellular—text messaging, e-mail and
public address systems. Once an emergency call comes in, the communications
specialists initiate an e.Notify message that immediately alerts all local emergency response
teams in a predetermined call-tree fashion, on their preferred communication
Instead of relying on humans to call, text or page emergency-response teams,
the Amcom system handles it all. The system's two-way alert and confirmation
technology also automatically initiates escalations or back-up calls as needed,
leaving nothing to chance. All of the communications specialists are certified by
the International Academy of Emergency Dispatch. They are trained to determine
the needs of each caller, deploy the appropriate resources and, if necessary, provide
communications support during the emergency to ensure the best outcome.
"Now e.Notify helps our network of more than 200 call groups, each with 20 to
30 responders, get emergency care to anyone in our cities or out in the rural areas
of our province more quickly, more reliably and more efficiently," Gutwin said.
"The notification system has allowed many of the communities we serve to provide
21st-century services to their residents. We've had fantastic results."
Improved Response Times
Since implementation of the system, Regina's key performance shows significant
improvement in the center's ability to reach, direct and manage responses from its
vast coverage area and diverse set of responders.
"Our activation time—the time it takes from when we receive a call until we initiate
an emergency response—has dropped from an average of five to 10 minutes
before we had the system, to about 40 seconds," Gutwin said. "That's a dramatic
improvement in our ability to handle emergency situations. It gets emergency
teams moving faster, and it allows our communications specialists to handle the
next situation much more quickly."
The center's 911 answer time has improved as well, exceeding its goal of 90
percent within 60 seconds to 91 percent. Gutwin predicts further improvements as
communications specialists become even more proficient and experienced.
"We've been able to maintain and improve on our key performance indicators,
despite a dramatically increased call volume and the same number of human resources,"
she said. "These improvements are operationally huge."
There's broad agreement that the e.Notify solution has proven its value in ways
that go beyond the usual improvement and efficiency numbers.
"It's allowed us to communicate with our rural emergency service providers, especially
the small fire departments and first responders, in ways that just wouldn't
have happened before," Gutwin said. "They simply couldn't afford sophisticated
communications systems—they'd still be trying to use radios, and
they'd be on their own. So what we're seeing is the survivability
of an essential service, because if we couldn't provide this, I don't
know what they would've done."