A novel approach for managing the growing demand for ambulance services by low-acuity patients

Aust Health Rev. 2016 Sep;40(4):378-384. doi: 10.1071/AH15134.


Objective The aim of the present study was to describe the Ambulance Victoria (AV) secondary telephone triage service, called the Referral Service (RS), for low-priority patients calling triple zero. This service provides alternatives to ambulance dispatch, such as doctor or nurse home visits. Methods A descriptive epidemiological review of all the cases managed between 2009 and 2012 was conducted, using data from AV case records, the Victorian Admitted Episodes Dataset and the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Cases were reviewed for patient demographics, condition, final disposition and RS outcome. Results In all, 107148 cases were included in the study, accounting for 10.3% of the total calls for ambulance attendance. Median patient age was 54 years and 55% were female. Geographically based socioeconomic status was associated with the rate of calls to the RS (r=-0.72; 95% confidence interval CI -0.104, -0.049; P<0.001). Abdominal pain and back symptoms were the most common patient problems. Although 68% of patients were referred to the emergency department, only 27.6% of the total cases were by emergency ambulance; the remainder were diverted to non-emergency ambulance or the patient's own private transport. The remaining 32% of cases were referred to alternative service providers or given home care advice. Conclusions This paper describes the use of an ongoing secondary triage service, providing an effective strategy for managing emergency ambulance demand. What is known about the topic? Some calls to emergency services telephone numbers for ambulance assistance consist of cases deemed to be low-acuity that could potentially be better managed in the primary care setting. The demand on ambulance resources is increasing each year. Secondary telephone triage systems have been trialled in ambulance services in the US and UK with minimal success in terms of overall impact on ambulance resourcing. What does this paper add? This study describes a model of secondary telephone triage in the ambulance setting that has provided an effective way to divert patients to more suitable forms of health care to meet their needs. What are the implications for practitioners? The implications for practitioners are vast. Some of the issues that currently face paramedics include: fatigue because of high workloads; skills decay because of a lack of exposure to patients requiring intervention with skills the paramedics have, as well as a lack of time for paramedics to practice these skills during their downtime; and decreasing job satisfaction linked to both these factors. Implications for patients include quicker response times because more ambulances will be available to respond and increased patient safety because of decreased fatigue and higher skill levels in paramedics.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Ambulances / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Health Services Needs and Demand*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Telephone
  • Triage
  • Victoria
  • Workload