Though technological innovations can often raise difficult ethical questions and exist in a grey area, there is little contention or hesitation over their place in advancing public safety. Whether it is an elderly person who can reach out with the press of a button for help after a fall or a new mom who can get access to the most up-to-date research on vaccines, technology can act as a guardian and a bridge in those moments when it is most urgent that we be able to communicate. The ambulance dispatch center is no exception. Though once, it was a sparse space with one employee, a telephone, and some pen and paper to record data; today, it is streamlined, efficient, and highly sophisticated. Emergency medical services are able to deliver life-saving processes like early CPR and rapid defibrillation because skillful dispatchers and their electronic sidekicks are able to connect people with the help they need faster than ever.
Ambulance dispatch centers are not just transmitters of what they hear anymore, but also often serve a preliminary diagnostic function that may include assessing the degree of threat. Here, with the support of state-of-the-art Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD), the emphasis is gradually shifting from passing the call from the first call center to dispatch as soon as possible to being able to produce a clear picture of the nature of the emergency as soon as possible. Though there is still a high premium on speed, there is a paradigm shift that prioritizes an informed and intelligent response over a merely prompt one.
In place to do so is the detailed and thorough Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS), which assists the Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD) to produce a preliminary assessment of the patient. It incorporates the patient’s demographics, like age, gender, and weight, with the reported symptoms to yield a comprehensive data-based action plan. It is designed in such a way that it takes into account the worst possible case so that it is low in risk and high in preparedness. Peer-reviewed studies have shown that the MPDS system is effective and reliable. After its introduction at the London Ambulance Service, a 200% increase was evidenced in the diagnosing of cardiac arrest over a period of three years; similarly, seizure and stroke are also able to be caught and treated sooner. Finally, it has also been proven that those cases which the MPDS system deemed low risk were accurately gauged 99% of the time.
These leaps in diagnostic technology can save precious time. They can put the necessary tools in the hands of non-Advanced Life Support Teams (ALS) to enable them to identify a life threatening situation, or to recognize that the caller may be better served by drawing on a less emergency geared resource.
The direction ambulance dispatch centers are moving in is sustained by a superabundance of data. Supervisors of dispatch centers that once might have strategized amidst maps on walls and heaps of paperwork now rely on CAD systems and savvy software applications. Further developments are focused on better integrating geographic information systems (GIS) applications into CAD software. In the past couple of years, GIS applications have grown to provide not only key cross streets or directions but vital bits of information like the location of fire hydrants, building blue prints, and unique features of the landscape. Incorporating GIS into CAD software will lend itself to a much more user friendly experience.
In addition to nuanced maps and diagnostic aids, ambulance dispatch centers not also have at their disposal – real time feedback, more organized records and notes, and better synced files between EMS, hospitals, and personal medical files.
A more resourced and connected dispatch center is key to emergency response. As the tools at hand become more nuanced and intuitive, it is important that we also be able to provide the training and upgrades to know what is possible and how to execute it in a way that helps save lives. The traditional concepts of the “chain of survival” and the “need for speed” are still valid; however, our ability to build on them is evolving.