Learn more: Why are Gateway’s and U City’s data different?

Why are U City’s data and Gateway Ambulance’s data different?

In a previous post, I showed how we can draw important insights from the data provided by Gateway Ambulance. However, we also want to be able to trust this data to give us an accurate picture of Gateway’s response times.

Our contract with Gateway stipulates that they must meet certain target response times. Thus, it makes sense to have an independent measure of Gateway’s response times, aside from the data they provide to us.

How can we get reliable data from Gateway?

With an actual deliberative process, this is exactly the kind of simple problem with the contract that could have been solved long ago. Gateway records its times using a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system, the same way U City does. Right now, Gateway compiles that data into monthly reports and sends them to the City. This leaves open the possibility that Gateway could alter the data in its reports to make their ambulances look faster than they really are.

We could have (and still could!) negotiate with Gateway to have their CAD system automatically record a copy of their data to our City’s computers. That way, Gateway would not be able to alter the data. We would need to first explore the technical possibility of this proposal, but if Gateway’s system would allow it, this would be the fastest way to get data we can all trust.

The other option, which the City voted to pursue, would be to hire someone to conduct an independent analysis of the data Gateway has provided so far. While this can bring clarity and closure, it is not a long-term solution like the one proposed above.

Why are U City and Gateway’s data different?

Another option is to compare Gateway’s data with the data recorded by our own CAD system.

However a direct comparison is difficult for several reasons:

  • The systems are not synced to one another. The times recorded are different, and it’s hard to know which call corresponds to which.
  • U City uses an outdated system that was not originally designed for ambulance service.
  • Most importantly, in the middle of a call drivers and dispatchers are more focused on responding to the emergency than on recording accurate data. That’s a good thing, but it means that the times recorded by Gateway will never align perfectly with that recorded by the city.

The Emergency Call Process

When an emergency call comes in, our dispatcher speaks with the caller to determine where they are and what care they need. Once the dispatcher understands the nature of the emergency, they call for appropriate support. Emergency responders listen to the call, try to understand what kind of action they will need to take upon arrival, and prepare as quickly as possible to drive.

Speaking over the phone, it can be difficult to determine exactly what support is needed. Dispatchers may dispatch several kinds of support at once or call additional vehicles to wait on stand-by. While vehicles are en route, dispatchers may continue to ask the caller for more information, and cancel or summon additional vehicles as they get a better understanding of the situation.

That’s why in my post visualizing the data from U City’s dispatch system, the “total” measure is not just a simple combination of “prep” and “transit.” The emergency call process is hectic, high-stress, and non-linear. Depending on the situation, extra vehicles may be put on standby or redirected en route to deal with a higher-urgency call.

Read the original dispatch records here.

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