What happens when you dial 000?

If you have slipped and believe you may have fractured a hip or a knee, don’t assume an ambulance will treat your accident as a priority for transport to hospital.

In fact, you may be left waiting in pain for as long as it takes the ambulance officers to attend to someone complaining about tightness in their chest.

Sudden numbness or paralysis of the face or limbs are also considered emergencies over cases involving suspected broken bones, reported Associate Professor in Paramedicine Bill Lord in The Conversation.

The University of the Sunshine Coast academic has suggested it may not be effective to allow an operator answering a call to 000 to decide the merits of the emergency and whether to send an ambulance.

“Attempts to define a health emergency often fail to appreciate that the definition is dynamic and depends on context,” Prof. Lord wrote.

“A complaint of weakness associated with prolonged vomiting and diarrhoea may not be an emergency when you have family support and transport options. But it may be an emergency when the patient is an elderly person living alone without support.”

He said a caller to emergency asking for an ambulance will be taken through a computer-generated script by the operator, who is not medically trained.

“They attempt to define the health problem, and determine the response required: lights and sirens, or not. But the deployment of paramedics for non-urgent health problems reduces their availability to respond to medical emergencies and major incidents.”

Prof. Lord said that adding to the problem was the fact that most Australians were unfamiliar with what constituted an acute condition that needed immediate attention.

“Poor health literacy affects the person’s ability to interpret health advice and navigate the health system to identify options for unscheduled care. Research from the Productivity Commission found the majority of Australians have inadequate health literacy. The proportion is greatest for those with chronic conditions,” he said.

“Taking into account the difficulties of making crucial decisions during a crisis situation, there are a number strategies which may facilitate more effective use of ambulance resources.”

He also argues that it may be preferable use experienced clinicians to screen emergency calls and “direct the caller to the most appropriate health pathway”, whether that be to dispatch an ambulance, or initiate a home visit by a doctor, nurse or paramedic trained to manage non-urgent health problems.

If you’re confident enough to navigate health information, you may find sites such as healthdirect useful, Prof. Lord said.

“This service uses a web-based algorithm to question the user about the nature of the health problem to direct the patient to local health services based on the nature of the complaint.”

Alternatively, you can call the Government’s 24-hour, seven-day a week healthdirect service to speak to a registered nurse on 1800 022 222.

“But if you’re unsure whether an ambulance is required, it’s okay to call 000 for advice. After all, delaying a call for a serious health problem can lead to a catastrophic outcome,” Prof. Lord said.

Have you ever been unsure whether your sudden medical issue requires an ambulance to attend? Have you ever been turned down for ambulance attendance after calling 000? Do you know of anyone’s condition worsening and endangering their life after an ambulance refused to attend?

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Transferred patient stung by ambo bill

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Olga Galacho

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