Medical Priority Dispatch System
A new 911 dispatch system gives paramedics the best chance to save your life.
In December 2022, the Ontario government changed the way 911 calls are assigned in Peel. Here’s what this means for you.
When you call 911
Ambulance Communications Officers (call-takers and dispatchers) will ask you a few more questions than they currently do and use those details to understand the true urgency of your call. These questions will only take a small amount of time and will help communications officers send the right help at the right time.
Reason for change
Residents with life-threatening illnesses and injuries need medical help quickly. In the past, there was too of a much risk that paramedics would be responding to non-urgent calls when urgent ones came in. This change will give paramedics the best chance to save your life or the life of someone you love.
Non-urgent issues will still get help
911 callers with lower-priority issues such as a broken bone with no bleeding, flu, badly sprained ankle, and other non-urgent problems will still get help, but not as quickly. It may take a few hours for paramedics to arrive in those situations and we know those people may be frustrated with the wait.
If your situation changes while waiting
An Ambulance Communications Officer will call you regularly to see if your symptoms have changed while you’re waiting. If you’re worse, they will re-prioritize your call and send help. If something changes suddenly, immediately call 911 again.
An important system change
This change means everyone in life-threatening condition gets the fastest and highest-level out-of-hospital care possible when they need it. If your condition does not deteriorate, you may be more comfortable waiting at home than going to hospital quickly, only to sit for hours in the emergency department.
How Medical Priority Dispatch System works
The Medical Priority Dispatch System is a software system that allows Ambulance Communications Officers to determine which 911 callers need help first, based on how serious a person’s medical condition is.
The system has been used in Toronto, Niagara, and in 52 countries around the world for years. It’s a trusted tool for identifying:
- Life-threatening emergencies.
- Serious but non-life-threatening emergencies.
- Minor illnesses and injuries.
It relies on decades of research and medical evidence.
In 2018, the Ontario government announced plans to implement the system at all its Central Ambulance Communications Centres, starting with Mississauga. Peel switched to the Medical Priority Dispatch System in December 2022.
Examples of medical conditions that will receive the highest priority
- Cardiac or respiratory arrest
- Heart attack
- Severe allergic reaction
The Medical Priority Dispatch System is expected to lead to significant benefits for Peel Regional Paramedic Services and the residents of Peel. It will:
- Give the most urgent calls top priority, resulting in better outcomes for patients.
- Reduce the risk of under-prioritizing calls, resulting in better outcomes for patients.
- Reduce the need for paramedics to drive lights-and-sirens, improving paramedic and public safety by reducing the risk of traffic-related accidents.
- Assure best use of resources.
If you waited a while for the ambulance to arrive
You waited because there were others in your community who were more sick or injured than you.
If you’re having a heart attack, stroke, or other life-threatening emergency, you’ll receive help within minutes.
If you’re having an urgent but not life-threatening emergency, you may wait longer for paramedics to arrive if paramedics are busy with other patients, or someone else calls 911 who needs immediate care. For example, if you’ve broken your ankle, and someone else is having difficulty breathing, the next available paramedic will be sent to the person struggling for air.
This doesn’t mean your call is not important. We know how stressful it can be waiting for paramedics to arrive. It’s difficult being sick or watching a loved one in pain. Rest assured, Peel paramedics will get to you as quickly as possible. They want nothing more than to help you in your time of need.
You’ll need to repeat some answers to questions
There are many people from different organizations who work together to help you in an emergency. Each person has specific questions they’ve been trained to ask to determine how to approach your situation.
When you call 911, you’ll speak to:
- A police communicator, who is the first person to pick up the phone.
- An Ambulance Communications Officer from the Ministry of Health, who’ll ask specific questions about your condition.
- Paramedics from the Region of Peel, who may ask the same questions (and more) during their medical assessment.
All questions are relevant and helpful to the people who need the answers. Please be patient and answer them as clearly and completely as possible.
Answering questions, even the same ones over again, does not delay help getting to you.
Ensuring the success of this new approach
Hundreds of millions of calls using this approach have been tested worldwide since 1979 from 3,500 agencies in 52 countries. It’s backed by science and medical evidence.
There is also an ongoing quality review by the Medical Priority Dispatch System medical director and service to ensure it continues to meet expectations.
The Ontario government has committed additional funds (e.g. training of Ambulance Communications Officers, technology upgrades) to help make the overall health care system stronger.