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Hexagon Software Allows Diversion of 911 Calls to Nurses

The company, which sells computer-aided dispatch tech, says triage for 911 calls can reduce pressure on first responders. A program in Rochester, N.Y., also shows the potential for costs savings for public agencies.

911 dispatch
As public safety agencies work to upgrade their emergency dispatch systems, Hexagon, a computer-aided dispatch technology provider, is offering a way to better discern the severity of calls — which in turn could relieve burdens and costs for first responders.

The Sweden-based firm says Nurse Navigator — basically, a triage program designed for 911 calls that involves actual nurses — can reduce the stress on ambulance operators and emergency rooms. The company is among the latest tech providers to offer such services.

Via the company’s software, 911 call-takers can route emergency requests to nurses who can then determine if specific calls require immediate emergency assistance, over-the-phone guidance and care or follow-up appointments with other medical professionals.

For instance, a 911 dispatcher might receive a request for an ambulance, and that dispatcher will ask a series of “probing questions to determine the severity of the situation,” Bill Campbell, a senior VP at Hexagon, explained in an email interview with Government Technology.

“Depending on the caller’s answers, they may be routed to a nurse who can further evaluate the patient and facilitate the needed care, which can include everything from over-the-phone instructions to scheduling an appointment at a clinic and arranging transportation,” he said. “Should the nurse discover the situation is more serious than initially thought, an ambulance may be requested.”

Nurses who take part in the program typically come from partnerships and collaborations with public safety agencies using the Hexagon software, along with other emergency organizations such as emergency rooms and urgent care clinics. Call centers without access to nurses can route calls to other centers that have them, he said.

One recent user of this system and the underlying Hexagon computer-aided dispatch technology is Rochester, N.Y., in a joint effort with Monroe County — though Campbell said this program can appeal to all areas facing increased 911 call volumes and service demands.

He said results show that the use of such programs in other places has reduced emergency room visits by as much as 30 percent — along with saving “millions” of dollars and “thousands of police and EMS hours reserved and applied to more critical, life-threatening needs.

He said the ongoing deployment of this program reflects the larger trend in public safety to dispatch mental health professionals to certain calls and to otherwise offer more precise and efficient responses to 911 calls.

Using the Hexagon software for Nurse Navigator requires more than just flipping a switch, according to Campbell.

“Dispatchers and call-takers need technology that allows them to quickly assess a situation, so they can provide the appropriate resources to callers in need,” he said. “This means 911 centers require flexible IT systems that can be configured based on agency processes, so when a new initiative like a Nurse Navigator program is added, the system can accommodate it on the back end, providing a seamless experience on the front end for the dispatchers and responders.”

How emergency dispatch can use Nurse Navigator also may vary, he said.

For instance, he said that some agencies can decide to use custom workflows within their computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems. That allows dispatchers to quickly determine whether an incoming call might meet the criteria for the Nurse Navigator program.

As well, emergency dispatch providers could initiate special codes within the CAD system to track the calls for reporting purposes.

“Costs incurred depend on a variety of factors, including existing resources, programs, policies and technology,” Campbell said. “Each program would be a unique instance, requiring special evaluation to determine the required costs.”
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in New Orleans.