Renfrew County set to introduce new dispatch system for paramedics

Editor’s note: The web version of this story has been updated with information that came in after our print deadline related to the go-live date of the new system.

Robert Fisher
Staff Reporter

PEMBROKE – The County of Renfrew, as part of a provincial initiative, will be introducing a new dispatch system for paramedics.

The province has begun, “the transition process to a software model that’s called Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS),” said Director of Emergency Services Michael Nolan. The system went live May 9.

Nolan explained that the new system will help better prioritize response to calls to ensure that the most severe get the care they need, “because it has a greater specificity in determining what is life threatening and what is not,” based on information callers provide.

Operators working with the new system will ask different questions than in the past, “with the intent of being able to provide greater reliability as to the priority or severity of the circumstances that paramedics are responding to.”

The new system will also help paramedics working in the new Mesa program. Nolan said the new system will allow them to better determine who may be in a medical crisis due to a mental health issue, whether they may be considering suicide, what medication they’re on and what co-morbidities they may have as a result of other health conditions. MPDS will allow Mesa paramedics to review, “what’s going on in the community and make sure that the people who are best suited to receive (Mesa) care are able to get it.”

Communications officers and paramedics have been training with the new system for the past year, Nolan said. He said it’s an entirely new approach to how they work and the training has been intensive.

The county has an on-site commander who works with the Ministry of Health to make sure the system is working the way the county needs. They’re able to schedule paramedic staff to help them get home closer to the end of shift and to better manage 911 paramedics and community paramedics.

Community paramedics have advanced training like 911 paramedics. The difference is community paramedics work solo rather than in pairs and don’t work out of an ambulance. They work out of SUVs in each community and, “most of their function is related to harm reduction and supporting people with complex chronic disease,” said Nolan. “They’re essentially doing home visits all day, every day for the most vulnerable seniors. But they are also fully equipped advanced care paramedics.”

When an emergency call comes in, Nolan said a community paramedic may be able to respond before an ambulance and initiate care. Depending on the nature of the call the community paramedic may be able to do all that’s needed and cancel the ambulance call, “so it’s available for the next emergency.” In other cases, the community paramedic can support the 911 paramedics as needed.

Nolan used the example of someone who has a fall in their home. They may need paramedic assistance but not hospitalization. Community paramedics, “are very adept at doing that,” he said. “They also have additional diagnostic tools,” such as ultrasound point of care and blood testing, “so it just allows a greater flexibility.”

Nolan said the 911 system has changed over the years. He said in the past people called 911 expecting they would go to a hospital. “Over the past five to 10 years people are calling 911 for paramedics to be able to assess them and give them good options,” which may include connecting the patient with the Renfrew County Virtual Triage and Assessment Centre or with the Mesa program, “to be able to stay home and get the care they require (and) not have to go to the hospital.”

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