FAQ: One EMS Dispatch System: Borderless System

How can someone who doesn’t live in our community find our house or location when we call for an ambulance?

EMS Dispatch centres are responsible for dispatching ambulances in their surrounding communities as well as communities that are a great distance away from where they are located. To help locate the closest, most appropriate ambulance, AHS has implemented proven technology that uses the following information:

The address can be located on the map with these types of information. The closest available ambulance is then identified and dispatched to the location immediately. If required, the emergency communications officer who takes the 911 call may need to work with the caller to obtain more information about the specific location while the ambulance is already on its way. 

With one EMS dispatch system, all ambulances will have mobile data terminals (on-board computers) that show the location of the ambulance, the location of the event and the fastest route from where the ambulance is located to the event. 

AHS EMS Dispatch consistently verifies an address for emergency calls in less than 60 seconds, 90% of the time.

AHS talks about a borderless system. What is that and how will it improve service to my community?

Prior to EMS transition to AHS, municipalities were responsible for providing EMS within the boundaries of their local municipality or district. Because dispatch was restricted by geographic boundaries, the local ambulance was called regardless of its location, even if another municipality’s ambulance was closer to the emergency. 

With one provincial EMS dispatch system, dispatchers know where all EMS resources are located in real-time through the use of automated vehicle locating technology or GPS technology. This allows EMS Dispatch to send the closest, most appropriate resource to respond to each emergency. It could be an ambulance passing through a community after dropping off a patient at a healthcare facility or one that has been proactively moved to provide coverage to a busy area. EMS crews use computers and electronic maps (known as mobile data technology) in the ambulance, as well as information from dispatch, to locate a call when they are in an unfamiliar area.

The goal of the borderless system is to provide improved EMS response and patient care. For example, instead of bringing an empty ambulance from Wetaskiwin into Edmonton to return a patient to their home community, a Red Deer unit already in Edmonton on a transfer can return the patient to Wetaskiwin on its way back to Red Deer.

AHS EMS also uses a process called System Status Management (SSM) to ensure EMS resources are strategically placed to obtain the best response times. SSM uses mathematical modeling to determine where an ambulance is most likely to be needed, based on the availability of resources and historical demand.

Will medical first responders, like our local firefighters, stop being called to respond to emergencies or be delayed because of dispatch consolidation?

Medical First Responder (MFR) agencies play a valuable role in public safety and pre-hospital care. MFRs provide timely aid and basic life support to patients with critical life threatening emergencies when EMS crews require additional assistance.

The MFR community in Alberta is made up of a diverse group of organizations and individuals. Each organization determines the skill level of the responders and the types of calls they wish to respond to based on the needs in the local community.  This information is formalized under the Alberta MFR Program and allows for EMS Dispatch to immediately notify an MFR agency when a medical emergency is occurring in their response area.

The Health Quality Council of Alberta report Review of the Operations of Ground Emergency Medical Services in Alberta outlined a required action for Alberta Health Services (AHS) to determine the role, required training and qualifications for medical first responders within the EMS delivery model. 

AHS and Alberta Health worked with MFR stakeholders to create a provincially coordinated MFR program. This framework ensures safe, consistent, and coordinated pre-hospital patient care is provided throughout the province.

This framework for MFR in Alberta was completed, with assistance of an advisory panel. MFR stakeholders were engaged throughout the process of program development, including reviewing the final plan.  

How will ambulances communicate with our community’s first responders?

Communication between public safety agencies, such as EMS, police, fire departments and other first responders, who are responding to the same event, occurs in a number of ways.  As new technology is implemented, responding agencies work together to determine how to communicate with each other using the technology.  

Currently, EMS uses voice and data to communicate with other agencies:

In the areas where the fire responders do not have a computer dispatch system, the same mobile computer terminal that is located in ambulances is placed in their dispatch centre. The dispatch centre can use the computer to communicate with the responding ambulance and relay messages to the fire units.

The recent Health Quality Council of Albert review of the Operations of Ground Emergency Medical Services in Alberta has given a required action of the Government of Alberta to ensure communication infrastructure exists to enable communication between different public safety agencies across the province

What kind of technology do dispatchers use to improve the service in my community?

Using technology, EMS dispatchers can identify the location of the medical emergency and the closest ambulance. 

Ambulances and crews have standard equipment to communicate with the dispatch centres. This includes on-board computers that allow crews in the ambulance to constantly share information back and forth with the dispatch centre. They also have GPS technology that shows where the ambulance is currently located, the location of the emergency and the fastest route to get there, even in an unfamiliar area. Currently, about 70 per cent of ambulances in the province have this technology

Technology includes:

How does having one dispatch system improve data collection and performance reporting?

Creating one EMS dispatch system improves the ability to capture accurate data and report performance consistently throughout the province. This information can then be used to improve patient care and EMS system performance. 

The Health Quality Council of Alberta report Review of the Operations of Ground Emergency Medical Services in Alberta recommends a comprehensive, single source of valid EMS system data to be used for decision-making, as well as quality and safety management. 

EMS dispatch centres can monitor the movement of each ambulance in the system including when they are dispatched, where they respond from, what route they take to get to the call and how long it takes to respond. As each stage of a response is completed, the times are recorded electronically using dispatch software. This information can then be used to report performance related to a specific call or summarized to measure performance for a specific period of time, service or geographic area.

The data and information from EMS dispatch software can also be used to make comparisons with industry best practice, scientific evidence, or between other ambulance services and geographic areas such as municipalities. 

The most important use of dispatch data is to identify areas of the system that require improvement.

Different means of collecting data also makes performance comparisons difficult or impossible. One EMS dispatch system using common technology and practices will improve how data is collected measured and reported. With one EMS dispatch system, information is available for more areas of the province – information that is accurate, timely and reflects the overall performance of EMS in their community.