Healthcare professional with red phone

When Seconds Count

Large healthcare system speeds caller response, emergency call handling.

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 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 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 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—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 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."

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