911 phone triage can put EMS resources where most needed

A nurse call center, when done correctly, can reduce unnecessary responses and create greater efficiency in the 911 system

If you’ve been in the business for any length of time, you probably have a story that could come straight out of “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” file.

Indeed, I have evaluated the 2 a.m. call for the toe pain that had been going on for five years, the pebble lodged in someone’s ear, and the request for a hospital transport because it was down the block from the individual’s favorite liquor store.

These episodes would be highly amusing, except for the fact that such events tie up precious EMS resources and prevent a more timely response to more urgent cases. 

Most EMS systems have responded to such calls by simply adding more units to the street to increase capacity. This is a financially unsustainable model. It doesn’t correct the problem of wasting resources; it merely compounds them by essentially condoning the behavior.

Programs like Greenville County (S.C.) EMS’s nurse call center show that phone triage, when done correctly, can be effective in reducing unnecessary responses and creating greater efficiencies in the 911 system. 

About the author

Art Hsieh, MA, NRP teaches in Northern California at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. An EMS provider since 1982, Art has served as a line medic, supervisor and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook writer, author of "EMT Exam for Dummies," has presented at conferences nationwide and continues to provide direct patient care regularly. Art is a member of the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com and connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.

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