Computer-aided dispatch system expected to make EMS more efficient

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor

Apr. 29, 2007 - The third and final phase of the seven-year CAD (computer aided dispatch) installation was completed recently, which should result in more efficient dispatch of calls and response by Hopkins County Emergency Medical Services personnel, as well as better recording and billing.

Staff Photo by Angela Pitts

EMS Communications Supervisor Russell Vanbibber points to a location as EMS Communications Operator Bryan Forshee works with the CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) and AVL (Automatic Vehicle Locator.

The two previous phases of installing the computer aided dispatch in the communications center at Hopkins County Memorial Hospital, which dispatches ambulances to emergency calls, included billing, fill data and CAD installation. This final phase includes installation of AVL — automatic vehicle locator — equipment, as well as a mobile repeater.

The AVL will aid in three ways. 

Not only will it help dispatchers keep track of ambulances and show them on a map exactly where the vehicle is at all times, the system also automatically tells the dispatcher which ambulance is nearest the call location for quicker dispatch.

Even if all of the EMS service's ambulances were parked side by side in front of the call center, the GPS system would draw a red line from the ambulance on the outside in the direction closest to the call source, indicating it should be dispatched to the call, Communications Supervisor Russell VanBibber explained.

By drawing lines  to the location, the system also monitors calls, telling how long and identifying routes. It can also be used when patients are transferred to another facility whether across town or across country, or area trauma and specialty centers in locales such as Tyler and Dallas. In addition to letting the dispatcher know the ambulance progress, the system can be used to zero in on an area, identifying streets and roads for better directions. And, can be used to help find alternate routes or to pull up more specific directions in the event the EMS personnel becomes lost or is unable to find their transfer destination due to incomplete directions.

The final phase of the CAD system also aides communication between dispatchers and EMS crews, as well as between incident command and EMS personnel both inside and outside of the ambulance. The mobile repeater boosts wattage which allows medics to switch channels on their radio and speak directly to those at the scene and in the communications center.

Before, they often had to return to the "truck" to ensure communications with dispatchers to let them know when they arrived, their assessment of the situation as well as what services, equipment and personnel will be needed once they arrive at the hospital with patients. Another problem was difficulty in talking between medics inside and outside the truck and the person in charge of scene command or other responders, according to VanBibber.

The mobile units are designed to provide clearer, more concise communication between all entities involved in a call at all times for better response and service.

The mobile repeater was a great help on a recent bus crash in Cooper, which Hopkins County EMS responded to. They were able to tell dispatchers to alert trauma teams, and communicate clearly without the usual interruptions, "drop outs" or skips in transmissions. The medics working on a patient inside an ambulance and working outside were also able to communication, according to Director of EMS Communications Mark Potter.

By using the mobile repeaters, the hospital also isn't out the cost of monthly cellular bills as some departments utilize cell phones to communicate with dispatchers, VanBibber said. 

The $200,000 project started in 2000 also cuts down on the amount of paperwork needed, as all entities involved who use the information at the hospital can access it using a uniform call number, cutting down on the volume of copious paperwork to about 5 pages per standard call.

That also will mean speedier billing for hospital services, which could mean better collections from insurance companies, who only pay up to a set maximum amount depending on the person's policy. Theoretically, the new CAD system will allow the billing department to pull up the information and have a patient's bill ready to mail to them the same day they are treated, VanBibber explained.

"This is state of the art. It's what some of the larger com[munications] centers have, only ours is a little better," VanBibber said.

He added that most systems don't do all of the things that their does, and in fact, HCMH is a "Beta site" for the program. They worked closely with Ortivus North America to develop a program that would do everything HCMH was asking. HCMH will pilot to program, working out bugs in the system, which will then be marketed to other departments, VanBibber said.

When developing the project, officials at HCMH took their needs to Intercity Communications where the Ortivus and CES Wireless' hardware and software systems were combined into one program and customized for HCMH, as will be all of the new programs, the communications supervisor explained.

Overall, they noted that while the system is not considered terribly expensive, it did cost "quite a bit" — about $200,000 total for all three phases. But if the end result gets patients the care and services they need in a more expedient manner, the the end patient outcome will more than justify the cost, VanBibber noted.

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