New paramedic to help make sure unusual symptoms get the right response

Trial program underway at Vancouver Communications Centre, which handles 911 calls

A new advanced care paramedic has started work with the 911 dispatch centre in the Lower Mainland to help lower ambulance response times and ensure calls are properly prioritized.

About 1,500 911 calls are made every on average in B.C., according to Lilley, executive director for patient care at BC Emergency Health Services, with more than half coming out of the Lower Mainland.

Three months ago, one of those calls came from Andrew Cho, a Vancouver man who suddenly had become paralyzed and collapsed at home.

According to an online fundraiser, Cho had to use his tongue to activate his iPhone and call for help.

He reportedly waited for close to an hour for paramedics to arrive.

Cho later filed a complaint, and BC EHS recently apologized that his call was given a lower priority than it should have, Lilley said.

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To avoid similar situations, as well as ease a steady seven-per-cent increase in calls each year, the health service has added a 24/7 advanced care paramedic to work with dispatchers on a trial basis while taking calls across the Lower Mainland.

When someone calls 911, an operator runs through a list of questions about the callers’ symptoms that determine the “triage priority,” Lilley said, as well as what kind of paramedic needs to respond.

This determines how long they’ll be waiting for paramedics to arrive.

With this new position, as the operator plugs the symptoms into a system, the advanced care paramedic overlooks the information and can increase the urgency of the call and type of response if needed.

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The goal is to ensure that unusual symptoms won’t get missed anymore.

“Not all conditions are of a standard nature,” Lilley said, adding that rare symptoms or the way the patient answers the questions can sometimes confuse the system.

If the trial is a success, BC EHS will rely on the provincial funding to expand the position across B.C.

Many 911 calls still not an emergency

In addition to the trial, Lilley said BC EHS is looking to add more nurses and clinicians to help with the large numbers of non-emergency 911 calls.

From blocked catheters to empty prescriptions, he said, many calls to 911 would be better handled by a family doctor or nurse, noting 811 as the number people can call for non-urgent health issues.

The emergency service is working with ambulance services across B.C. to analyze how many people are misusing 911 for non-emergencies to “fully understand how many of these clinicians [this] would demand.”


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