Effort to Centralize 911 Data in California Stalls

December 26, 2012

California’s effort to collect information on 911 medical responses around the state is foundering because of flawed data, aging computers and a lack of participation from fire departments, authorities said.

The state Emergency Medical Services Authority has been trying for three years to collect and centralize reports on millions of emergency medical responses, including response times, to help improve life-saving practices.

State officials want data from the moment that 911 dispatchers answer calls to the point at which patients are transferred to hospitals. That would, for the first time, permit researchers, regulators and public officials to compare response times and patient treatment.

However, the voluntary program has been stymied because nearly half of the state’s 32 regional emergency medical agencies, which were supposed to gather and submit reports from fire departments and ambulance services, failed to contribute to the program, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Some fire departments say they don’t have the money or time to respond while others have submitted problematic data. Some fire departments calculate medical response times from the second a 911 call is answered, while others count from the point at which fire stations crews are alerted.

“We can’t compare apples to apples. We compare apples to oranges and peaches,” said Tom McGinnis, the state official overseeing the project.

Some fire departments rely on outmoded computer systems and the state isn’t forcing cash-strapped local agencies to participate because many would have to replace their computer systems, McGinnis said.

“Really what it comes down to is money,” he said.

The only way to make the program work is to clarify the reporting standards and make participation mandatory, said Bruce Wagner, the top administrator for the emergency medical services agency in Sacramento County.

His agency hasn’t provided the state data because fire departments and ambulance companies under his jurisdiction don’t want to spend the time and money.

“It’s hard for us to tell them they are going to incur additional costs if it’s not mandated,” he said.

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