Data analytics driving Ottawa’s paramedic services forward

Emergency vehicle Ottawa
The Ottawa Paramedics Service is using a real-time data analytics platform from software company Qlik to help emergency responders save time – and lives. Photo provided by Ottawa Paramedics Service.

The Ottawa Paramedics Service is using a real-time data analytics platform from software company Qlik to help emergency responders save time – and lives.

The Ottawa Paramedics Service has been using Qlik’s historical data management system for around six years, using it to predict priorities for events such as Halloween or Canada Day, according to deputy chief Greg Furlong. Around a year and a half ago it gained access to real-time data and decided to implement analysis of that data into a dashboard used by emergency paramedic supervisors and staff at four of Ottawa’s largest hospitals.

“It’s something that’s gaining traction as people are seeing the value of it,” says Furlong, who regularly speaks publicly about the use of data analytics in emergency services.

The Ottawa Paramedic Service manages 126 response vehicles and more than 600 paramedics, dispatchers and technicians. They respond to upwards of 140,000 calls per year.

Qlik’s software, in partnership with solutions provider GINQO Consulting, looks at the demand and capacity of emergency responder vehicles as well as hospital wait times based on ambulance dispatches to determine key areas for vehicle placement and which hospitals are best suited to take in emergency patients at a given time.

The aim is to help direct the transportation of patients to the most appropriate hospital to ease the burden of offload delays, which cuts down on two significant times: minutes spent waiting for an ambulance to arrive and the time it takes to offload a patient at the hospital gates.

“Minutes and seconds truly make a difference in patient outcomes,” says Furlong.

Putting the ‘dash’ in ‘dashboard’

He says adoption of the real-time dashboard has been significantly better than the historical analytics tool, which is extremely beneficial for big-picture planning but less useful for responders on the ground.

“Emergency services live in the now,” says Furlong. “When they start seeing real-time data and see where the pinch points are within the system, then they can actually action it in real time to have a meaningful impact.”

"Minutes and seconds truly make a difference in patient outcomes."

For the moment, all of the information comes from emergency paramedics services – data such as ambulance deployment and arrival times and vehicle wait times at hospital gates. In the near future, Furlong says they are looking at incorporating other datasets such as traffic density and hospital data. They are also looking at a decision support tool to help with ambulance deployment and concentration.

“We're looking at the location of the vehicle where historically all the calls have happened, and then trying to predict where we should move that vehicle to best serve the community,” says Furlong.

The dashboard was initially available to the senior command team and has been deployed throughout the emergency services team as far as frontline road superintendents. The four hospitals also have access to the dashboards to stay up-to-date with ambulance loads and incoming emergencies.

“Our chief has been very clear that he wants the dashboard everywhere,” says Furlong.

“Everyone has awareness as to how the system is improving. And I think that layer of transparency goes a really long way.”

It’s not just Ottawa that is benefiting – Furlong says they are sharing their story and some of the key learnings with emergency services departments across Ontario in the hopes that future deployments of similar tools will catch up.

“We’re sort of helping them along that data journey the best we can,” he says.

Beyond paramedics

Sean Price, global emergency services director for Qlik, says data analytics aren’t just a handy tool anymore, but rather a “critical asset” for emergency services worldwide. Price has experience in implementing data analytics into policing prior to joining Qlik. He says projects like this one pave the way for adoption and normalization of data analytics in medical services, policing and more.

“Greg Furlong is a great example of a very innovative leader who really understands how data can drive an organization,” says Price. “We really want those analytics to be placed where people are making decisions and taking action. That’s where you get the greatest benefit.”

Heather Gittings, senior director of global industry solutions at Qlik, says a similar partnership in a city outside Vancouver, B.C. has been implemented to help mitigate the effect of the opioid crisis.

“They're pulling together data from fire, police, ambulance and social services to identify specifically where there is an issue with opioids … and then they are responding to that in a cohesive fashion,” she explains.

Gittings says this is an example of the potential of data to help not only improve emergency responses, but also implement predictive responses across multiple agencies.

“It’s those combinations of data that are really key,” she says.

Having worked in policing for almost two decades, Price says he remembers the daily fear and uncertainty felt by those on the frontline.

“They’re dealing with so much risk, day in and day out,” he says, and analytics can give them more confidence as they feel more aware of and prepared for the risks of their job. They can do more, do better, and plan ahead, says Price – all of which can help them save more lives.

“It really does make feel like you're getting to work and delivering change.”