When an emergency call comes in at the communications center of the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region in Regina, Saskatchewan, it could be originating across the hall – or from hundreds of miles away. The Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region is the largest health care delivery system in southern Saskatchewan. In diverse communities stretching across the region, nearly a half-million residents call this 52,000 square mile area home. Communities range in size from tiny Fleming, population 95, to Regina, at around 200,000.
Serving the communications needs of the organization is a challenging task. Regina’s Regional Communications Centre does that and more, as it also provides emergency dispatch services to their region and three others. From their facility in Regina, the unit answers approximately 150,000 requests for service annually, including more than 42,000 calls for emergency services. The four communications specialists at the center launch communications that deploy 40 ambulance services, 76 fire departments and 80 first responder teams, serving more than 130 communities in southern Saskatchewan.
This was all made possible in 2006 when the management team in the Regional Communications Centre determined that they needed to reassess their role in the region, including the possibility that the growing demand for emergency call services might force them to roll back service availability to parts of the region. By analyzing the trends they were seeing – a growing number of calls, compounded by expanding communications technologies such as cell phones and the Internet – they realized that the call volume in their center would continue to be a challenge.
“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,” said Chris Heim, CEO of Amcom Software. “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 Solution: Rather than reduce critical services to the region, Kim Gutwin, superintendent of the center, led a team that explored changes that would save time and cost. Their search led them to implement Amcom e.Notify and Smart Console software in their communications center. The center’s network takes advantage of nearly every imaginable communications technology: pagers, telephones (both home and business land lines, including TDM and VoIP, as well as cellular), text messaging, email, and public address included.
When an emergency call comes in, the communications specialists initiate a notification message that immediately alerts all local emergency response teams in a pre-determined call-tree fashion on their preferred communication device. Instead of relying on humans to call, text, or page emergency response teams, the system automatically handles it. The software’s two-way alert and confirmation technology also automatically initiates escalations or backup calls as needed, leaving nothing to chance.
All of the communications specialists are certified by the International Academy of Emergency Dispatch (IAED). 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.”
The Results: Since implementation of the system, Regina’s key performance indices show significant improvement in the center’s ability to reach, direct, and manage responses from their 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 5 to 10 minutes before we had the system to about 40 seconds,” explained Gutwin. “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 – the amount of time before a call is picked up – has improved as well. With a goal of 90 percent answer time within 60 seconds, the staff quickly rose from 80 percent success 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. These improvements are operationally huge.”
There is broad agreement across the area served by Regina Qu’Appelle that these tools have proven their 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. They simply couldn’t afford sophisticated communications systems – they’d still be trying to use radios, and they’d be on their own,” concluded Gutwin. “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.”
For more information about Amcom Software, call 800-852-8935.
[From the August/September 2009 issue of AnswerStat magazine]