Hospital hopes technology can help triage emergency calls

In theory, dialing 9-1-1 for medical incidents should be reserved only for the most urgent of cases. All too often, however, hangnails and headaches end up clogging up the lines and wasting valuable emergency resources.

A new pilot program in South Carolina is turning to technology in an attempt to change all of that.

In Greenville County, emergency dispatchers are getting ready to pilot new software that will triage low priority calls to nurses for assessment and assistance, according to If it works, the system--known as Priority Solutions Integrated Access Management (PSIAM)--could help to alleviate some of the county's unnecessary emergency room use; a recent study of the county determined that 61 patients accounted for roughly 1,000 ER visits over the course of a year.

Angela Sinopoli, chief medical officer for Greenville Hospital System, tells GreenvilleOnline that the system allows for dispatchers to refer calls that seem non-emergency related to a nurse line for assistance; the nurse then can determine whether if such calls are actual emergencies that would require an ambulance, or something less urgent. Ambulance roll outs cost an average of $280 per incident, according to the article.

"[A] lot of calls may be 'I'm constipated,' 'I've got a headache,' 'I can't get my prescriptions filled,'" Sinopoli says. "Those don't require a trained paramedic to be dispatched."

Healthcare organizations are increasingly turning to tech to better manage emergency room flow.

Earlier this year, a report published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases determined Google Flu Trends to be a good warning system for hospital emergency departments for anticipating illness trends. And many hospital systems are using text messaging to inform patients of wait times at their emergency rooms.

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