Non-emergency calls posing a problem for REMSA

Published: Jan. 20, 2020 at 6:02 PM PST
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About 20% of all calls REMSA receives are not emergencies.

That’s about 14,000 calls to REMSA each year.

REMSA wants people to understand what happens to limited and valuable resources when these calls occur.

Dispatchers at REMSA are medically trained to assess the medical problem on the other end of the line.

Some of the medical emergencies are obvious, while others sound like this:

Dispatcher: “Tell me exactly what happened.”

Caller: “Um, one of my staff members informed me a gentleman here had lice.”

Lice is not a medical emergency.

But because the medical problem is being relayed by a third party, an ambulance was sent to the location for further evaluation.

That means that ambulance was not available for a real emergency.

Another unit would be sent in its place, requiring more response time to that real emergency---removing that ambulance from his assigned area where another real emergency could occur.

“People that are calling because their food is cold,” says Adam Heinz, REMSA Integrated Health Executive Director. “Calling because they need their mattress blown up, that is a reality that is occurring every day here. And that is taking resources from real emergencies. Chest pain, shortness of breath, stroke unconsciousness, obviously if you have a history of anaphylaxis those are all medical emergencies definitely call 911 for that,” he says.

As a result of the non-emergency calls, REMSA has an ongoing campaign called 'Use 911 for Emergencies only.”

REMSA admits such advice can be confusing to the public--as something small may indicate an emerging dangerous medical condition.

But dispatchers will ask a series of questions, and may ask another question.

Dispatcher: “Ok sir, based upon the answers you have provided, your current complaint requires that I transfer you over to a registered nurse. And what they are going to do is further evaluate your condition in order to direct you to appropriate medical care. So I would be canceling the ambulance right now, and send you over to the nurse help line to speak with a registered nurse.”

Caller: “Ok that sounds good. Thank you.”

This additional level of screening is where emergency medical response is headed.

While more and more agencies are transferring calls to nurses on staff to further assess the situation, agencies in the future may actually transport patients to a quick-care or other clinic who offers no-emergency medical treatment.

In the future as well, telemedicine, where patients will stay home and receive medical advice or treatment over the internet.