Improving ambulance dispatch to time-critical emergencies

Title: Improving ambulance dispatch to time-critical emergencies.
A NHMRC Partnership project between Curtin University and St John Ambulance WA

Professor Judith Finn (PRECRU, Curtin University) is leading an interdisciplinary team of researchers to work together with St John Ambulance WA to improve the accuracy of the dispatch of ambulances.

The project – commenced in July 2014 – received three years of funding under the highly competitive NHMRC Partnership Projects initiative – see

Chief Investigators (CIs):

CIA: Prof Judith Finn Curtin University / St John Ambulance WA / Monash University
CIC: Prof Daniel Fatovich Royal Perth Hospital / The University of Western Australia
CID: A/Prof Karen Smith Ambulance Victoria / Monash University
CIE: Dr Teresa Williams Curtin University / St John Ambulance WA
CIF: Dr Delia Hendrie Curtin University
CIG: A/Prof Kay O’Halloran Curtin University
CIH: Professor Peter Cameron Monash University


Associate Investigators:

Mr Tony Ahern St John Ambulance WA
Mr Deon Brink St John Ambulance WA
Prof Phillip Della Curtin University
Dr Madoka Inoue Curtin University
Mr Iain Langridge St John Ambulance WA
Mr Craig McKemmish St John Ambulance WA
Mr Austin Whiteside St John Ambulance WA

Consumer Representative:

Dr Anne Atkinson

Project synopsis:

The optimal management of critically ill patients is a continuum of care through the healthcare system; seamlessly extending from the prehospital and emergency department phases to the Intensive Care Unit and rehabilitation services.  The prehospital management of critically ill patients begins with the emergency ‘000’ phone call for an ambulance.  This is where the first suspicion of a time-critical emergency presents and it is on the basis of this ‘first link in the chain of survival’ that ambulance dispatch priority is determined.  However, as asserted at the recent inaugural European Emergency Medical Dispatch conference, “there is a paucity of dispatch research in the published medical literature…and the optimum method of handling calls and dispatching emergency medical resources remains largely unknown”.

This partnership project brings together an interdisciplinary team to work collaboratively with St John Ambulance Service in Western Australia to investigate strategies to improve the accuracy of emergency medical dispatch.  All ambulance services in Australia (except ACT) (and many internationally) use the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS).  Hence our study findings will be of relevance to emergency medical systems throughout the world.
We will use quantitative and qualitative methods, drawing on unique data sources not readily accessible in any other jurisdictions in Australia, to address questions such as:

  1. How accurately does the MPDS emergency dispatch system identify time-critical emergency conditions?
  2. What has been the experience of the end-users of MPDS?
  3. What characteristics of the communication between call taker / caller can lead to inappropriate dispatch priority?
  4. What are the EMS demand management implications of over-triage of calls?
  5. What are the economic and service implications of inappropriate triage of calls?

Further information can be obtained from:
Professor Judith Finn