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VOL. 131 | NO. 39 | Wednesday, February 24, 2016

IBM Team Gathers Data on Memphians’ 911 Use

By Madeline Faber

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Six IBM professionals arrived in Memphis on Feb. 22 to gather data and propose solutions to better streamline Memphis’ emergency services in the face of the city’s “health care crisis.”

For many Memphians, 911 is the lifeline to any medical care. In response to rising call volume and costs, the Memphis Fire Department is expanding its role to include preventative care for Memphis’ poor, elderly and mentally ill, which will in turn decrease the frequency of their 911 calls.

With boots on the ground, IBM will analyze from where 911 calls are coming and what ailments could be better treated outside of the emergency room.

IBM’s three-week stay is part of a $500,000 Smarter Cities Challenge grant garnered by the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team in May 2015. Memphis joins nearly 130 cities across the globe that have received the consulting grant and is one of three to receive a Twitter analytics package.


At the Smarter Cities Challenge kickoff event held at the Memphis Bioworks auditorium, Mayor Jim Strickland and Memphis Fire Department director Gina Sweat stressed that any changes made to the city’s emergency medical services system would be enhancements, not cuts.

“At this critical point – as all medical care providers know – the EMS services, hospitals and health care agencies are forced to rethink our current models,” Sweat said. “How do we respond to what is being called a period of health care crisis?”

In the last three years, Memphis 911 calls have increased 10.5 percent, and 20 percent of the annual 120,000 calls have been determined to be non-emergency. The annual revenue for the EMS system is $20 million, but expenditures total $40 million, according to the IBM grant application.

Sweat added that upcoming changes to the Memphis Fire Department’s EMS services include working with the area’s health care community collaborative to improve chronic disease management and establish a network of wraparound care, adding specially-trained nurses to 911 dispatch, expanding firefighters’ roles to include prevention and health education, and statewide legislative advocacy to bring community paramedicine into official sanction.

The Memphis Fire Department stepped into its expanded role when it launched the health care navigators program last September, sending paramedics into homes and community centers in addition to emergency transport. The state hasn’t yet formally approved paramedics to perform non-emergency care.

The data from IBM could prove that the health care navigators program is worthwhile while drumming up support for the state’s community paramedicine ruling to be decided on March 30.

If the official designation is passed, paramedicine would be a “major role change” for Memphis’ paramedics, according to MFD battalion chief Andrew Hart.

“With the IBM data, we’d love to be able to show definitively, this is proof that what we’re doing is working and we are saving money,” Hart said. “Hopefully down the line the insurance companies will start seeing more work done under the community paramedic certification, and will start paying for you to go out and take care of those patients instead of just transporting them to the hospital.”

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