When Seconds Count
Large healthcare system speeds caller response, emergency call handling.
- By Chris Heim
- Dec 01, 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 200,000 residents.
In addition to serving the communications needs of the organization itself, Regina's
Regional Communications Centre also provides emergency dispatch services to the region
and three others. From its 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 have the ability to deploy 40 ambulance services, 76 fire
departments and 80 first responder teams, serving more than 130 communities in southern
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 Regina's Regional
Communications Center, led a team that explored ways to save time and cost. Their
search led them to Amcom Software.
After looking into a broad range of options, Gutwin and his team decided to implement
Amcom's 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 device.
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
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—which is 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. "Clearly, that's a dramatic improvement in
our ability to handle emergency situations. Most importantly, it gets emergency teams moving
faster, and it allows our communications specialists to handle the next situation much
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."