Key partners rethink healthcare access to prevent 9-1-1 overuse


In 2016, the Memphis Fire Department responded to approximately 130,000 calls requesting emergency services and 25,000 of those calls were classified as non-emergency.

Those non-emergency calls take up time and could cost lives. 

A host of Memphis partners gathered from June 7 to June 9 to develop solutions to improve the City of Memphis' emergency medical services model. Their innovations will hone in on the 911 call center what could be done to alleviate some of the non-emergency calls, which take up valuable time and resources from the people that need them the most.

Partners at the Memphis Innovation Bootcamp, held at the Fedex Institute of Technology, included Innovate Memphis and Lokion's GoNimble team. 

“A lot of their ideas were about helping connect people to the patchwork of resources that are available, but people may not know they are available," said Justin Entzminger, director of Innovate Memphis.

The bootcamp brought together 20 participants from the corporate community, government, non-profit and academic worlds to work together in multidisciplinary teams engaging in innovation and design to tackle real-world issues.

For the fiscal year 2016, there were more than 2,000 times that people called into the system and needed an ambulance and there wasn’t one available.

Memphis Fire Department EMS chief Andrew Hart talks to the groups about their ideas to improve the efficiency of the 911 call center.




















During the brainstorming session, groups came up with systems that would easily connect people with the resources that they need instead of calling 911. Concepts touched on database and phone systems, public education and outreach, and state-wide and local approaches.

Many groups stated that the non-emergency line, 211, should be promoted as a viable alternative to the 911 line. Being able to dial 211 for non-emergency issues has only been in place for a few years, and right now the service still has limited hours. Expanding those hours could be the next step.

“We’re looking at how we can take those calls off the system so that we’re not running out of ambulances for emergencies,” said Memphis Fire Department EMS division chief Andrew Hart.

“For example, if someone needs a ride to a primary care doctor, maybe 211 could help handle that,” said Hart. “There was a lot of discussion about education because a significant portion of the problem is people just don’t realize what resources are out there and available to them.”

He believes some of the takeaways from the bootcamp could be implemented quickly following the session.

"The big problem we saw over the last few days is that people take the path of least resistance, and healthcare is complicated. It’s hard to untangle. We’re trying to find ways to link up people with healthcare. In many cases, you may not need an ambulance but you need healthcare and access to a clinic."

Lokion’s Shiloh Barnat led the bootcamp and helped participants to focus on large-scale problem solving. During the first day, participants visited EMS’ central operations and met with leaders and learn about how 911 calls and emergency dispatch situations are managed.

“They had a half-day tour where they went to the 911 call center, Resurrection Health clinic in Frayser and Methodist North (hospital), so they saw the work flow of where 911 has big impacts and different ways that it’s being utilized, underutilized or overutilized," said Cody Behles, manager of innovation and research support at the FedEx Institute of Technology.

On the second day, teams went through a rapid design process to generate innovative solutions to improve EMS services.

“The big problem we saw over the last few days is that people take the path of least resistance, and healthcare is complicated. It’s hard to untangle,” said Matt Tsacoyianis, who works in mobile marketing for FedEx.

“We’re trying to find ways to link up people with healthcare. In many cases, you may not need an ambulance but you need healthcare and access to a clinic.

So we’re talking about ways to connect with the neighborhood clinics that really can help the community," he added.

On the final day, teams presented their solutions to fire department officials from the Memphis Fire Department, the largest EMS system in the state of Tennessee.

“We can now take their ideas back to our shop and think about what’s the next step,” said Entzminger, who plans to use the ideas in an upcoming report to be shared with Mayor Strickland’s steering committee.

Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.
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