Lexington County counting on technology to improve EMS response

Lexington County is banking on technology to help assure emergency medical care arrives faster as more and more people call for assistance in the growing county.

A new automated analysis will help 911 dispatchers determine more quickly the level of help required from ambulance crews after collecting details from callers on the extent of injury and pain.

“It’s ensuring that our response to critical calls occurs in the optimal time possible,” county administrator Joe Mergo said.

Medical-related 911 calls are divided almost evenly between those demanding immediate high-level attention and others that are less urgent, he said.

And all ambulance crews are not equal: Paramedics have more training than emergency medical technicians and can perform more complex medical tasks. That’s where dispatchers have decisions to make about the level of emergency aid someone needs.

Automation is the latest step to improve response times to an increasing number of calls for medical care, including some that aren’t urgent. Last year, officials put more ambulances on the road during the daily peak period of calls from noon-9 p.m.

The bottom line? Dispatchers and crews need to move faster.

County EMS falls short of achieving its goal of reaching the scene within 12 minutes for 90 percent of calls across the 758-square mile county.

Ambulances crews hit that goal about two-thirds of the time, according to reports to County Council.

Improving performance is getting harder amid increasing calls for help. Those calls are expected to reach 40,000 in the year ending June 30, county EMS director Brian Hood said.

Right now, adding more staff and ambulances to reduce waits for medical care isn’t doable, Hood said. A shortage of paramedics and tight finances make additional crews unlikely for a while, he said.

Dependence on the new technology is being phased in as dispatchers become more adept in its use. The “soft start” will be expanded slowly, Hood said.

Council members are waiting to see if the test works as well as expected during the next six months in sorting through sometimes hectic demands for medical attention.

“We’ve got to best utilize the assets we have,” council chairman Todd Cullum of Cayce said.

But 911 services can use a bit of triage itself, he said.

Some residents try to treat it as a taxi service for routine health care instead of reserving it for life-threatening problems, Cullum said.

“We have people calling it that say they need a ride to the hospital for a medical appointment, not the emergencies it is set up for, ” he said.

Tim Flach: 803-771-8483

Learn more

Lexington County officials will meet with community groups to explain the new plan for improving response to calls for emergency medical service.

Contact county public information officer Harrison Cahill at (803) 785-8210 or email him at hcahill@lex-co.com.