By Matt de Simone
Botetourt’s Fire & EMS dispatchers recently received an upgrade to their software to move toward the future.
Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) is a program for handling medical calls. Dispatchers using the program’s “Guidecards” quickly determine the priority and nature of the caller’s situation, dispatch the response, and then notify the caller of how to help care for the patient until the responders arrive.
Botetourt County Fire & EMS Chief Jason Ferguson explained in a recent interview that EMD is a nationally accredited software and an internationally used product through a company called Priority Dispatch.
“Basically, [Priority Dispatch] vets all the questions, and I believe the company reviews a million cases a day of questions being asked around the world that helps them hone in on the exact way to ask the questions to get the desired response,” Chief Ferguson explained. “Ultimately, that allows the dispatcher to produce a better result as far as what type of call they receive and what type of unit to dispatch on the street.”
He explained that traditionally, the dispatchers sent an ambulance on the street, no matter if it was an “advanced” truck or a primary rescue vehicle. Today, it is essential for the county’s rescue services to use their resources wisely.
Sending a paramedic to assist someone with a broken ankle may not call for the use of an advanced vehicle when the next call could be for someone suffering from cardiac arrest. The county emergency dispatchers utilize the EMD software to pinpoint the exact needs of patients better.
When dispatchers receive a call, the program will bring up the Guidecards on a monitor based on the caller’s information submitted by the dispatcher. From there, dispatchers use the program’s suggestions to help decide which unit to dispatch. The new EMD software went into effect two weeks ago.
“The software is a huge improvement,” Communications Supervisor Nicole Manspile mentioned during the call. “We can definitely see the difference in the questions we were asking and the questions we ask now. The information we’re gathering is more robust, and it’s allowing us to triage the call better.”
The new software will save time in starting life-saving measures. For example, Manspile explained that in situations where time makes all the difference, the new EMD program allows first responders to start CPR quicker for patients in need of resuscitation.
Chief Ferguson stated that the new EMD software could get a unit out of the door around 30 seconds following a call, depending on the details given to the dispatcher. A caller tried to determine whether or not the patient in need was breathing correctly in a more recent case. The dispatcher asked the caller to count out loud when the patient was breathing. Based on the information given, the dispatcher entered into the program how many breaths per minute, which the program soon determined whether or not the patient’s breathing was adequate.
“When some dials 9-1-1, every second truly does count in these life-threatening, critical emergencies where the person on the other end of the line may not know what to do,” Ferguson stated. “The tool we’ve implemented allows the dispatchers to better triage—through the questions and the answers—the resources.
“What this is going to change in the way people see ambulances traveling down the street and showing up in people’s homes is that the truck may not have the red lights on because dispatch may triage the call to be a non-life-threatening situation,” Ferguson continued. “For us, that is a liability reduction tool because if we respond with lights and siren to something that is not life-critical and we encounter ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ at an intersection resulting in a crash—that’s indefensible in today’s world. The right thing to do is send the right level of resources in the right response mode. We’ll be there promptly, but that doesn’t mean we’ll activate our red lights and sirens.”