Phoenix Fire Department Still Waiting On Electronic Reporting

By Christina Estes, Lauren Gilger
Published: Tuesday, June 18, 2019 - 12:01pm
Updated: Tuesday, June 18, 2019 - 2:25pm

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LAUREN GILGER: It’s been five years since the Phoenix Fire Department described an electronic reporting system as the single most important improvement it needed to make. It’s been four years since the City Council approved funding for the new system, but no deal has been made. KJZZ’s Christina Estes joins me now to explain why the system is so critical and why it hasn’t been implemented. Christina, how is the Fire Department currently handling reports in the field?

CHRISTINA ESTES: They use paper and pen. It’s a 35-year-old system that creates three copies that are handled throughout the process.

Phoenix Firefighter filling out a form
Christina Estes/KJZZ
The Phoenix Fire Department says a new electronic system will lead to more efficiency, accuracy and higher reimbursement rates for ambulance transports.

GILGER: We know around 90 percent of the calls Phoenix Fire responds to are medical. So, can you give an example of how the current system works?

ESTES: Sure. Let’s say you’re in a car accident and break your leg. The first crew on the scene would whip out this form and start filling in your name and other information. When the paramedics arrive to take you to the hospital, the first crew rips off one sheet for its records and hands the remaining two sheets to the paramedics. The medics may add more information and when they arrive at the hospital, they keep a copy for their records and hand the third and final copy to an employee in the emergency room.

GILGER: Sounds like there’s potential for problems.

ESTES: Yeah, there’s messy handwriting and sometimes incomplete information and lost pages. It’s one reason Phoenix wants to move to what’s called an electronic patient care reporting system. They refer to it as EPCR, and the benefits could be felt citywide. Last month, Fire Chief Kara Kalkbrenner told the public safety subcommittee the department dispatches 2-hundred-70 thousand calls annually.

KARA KALKBRENNER: I can tell you what we dispatch but I can’t tell you what the outcome was so if it came out as a heart attack and ended up being a fall injury, there’s nothing in our system that allows us to update that information. So, currently, (with) EPCR, we could run data analytics and tell you exactly what’s going on in our community. In your specific district we could tell you the type of medical calls were responding to — all the districts — so this is definitely a system that will make us more efficient in better understanding the health of our community.

ESTES: The data could help Phoenix more effectively address homelessness, drug abuse and other issues.

GILGER: How so?

ESTES: Indianapolis is a good example. More than five years ago, the city’s ambulance service noticed it was using more of an emergency medication to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses. It shared its data with local police and other public safety agencies. Then, about three years ago, they started a program where trained outreach workers meet overdose patients bedside to talk about treatment options and how to get tested for diseases that are spread through needles. Think about how the lives and money that could be saved by using data in strategic ways.

GILGER: How does the electronic system work?

ESTES: Basically, it’s software loaded onto tablets that are used in the field. Instead of filling out paper forms by hand, you enter the information into a tablet. It’s stored remotely and made available to other medical professionals at the hospital or your doctor’s office. Councilman Michael Nowakowski, who chairs the public safety subcommittee, said Phoenix is falling behind when it comes to technology.

MICHAEL NOWAKOWSKI: This is kind of disappointing that we have 26 other cities in our region, and they all have this system.

GILGER: Wow. So, Phoenix the only city out of 26 across the Valley without an electronic system?

ESTES: That’s the Fire Chief’s understanding.

GILGER: Why doesn’t Phoenix have it?

ESTES: The city has twice issued requests for proposals — or RFP’s. About halfway through the first process, there were concerns that the city’s choice for a vendor would be challenged, and they started the process over. Then, they started the second RFP in the fall of 2017. Here’s Assistant Chief Scott Walker.

SCOTT WALKER: This again was going through the process. We did complete our demonstrations, our evaluations, working through that process and towards the end, before we could make an award, some concerns once again arose that made us feel the best option was to stop that procurement and to start over.

ESTES: I couldn’t get any more details from the Fire Department. They referred to the Finance Department because they handle the RFP and procurement process, and they’re a tough bunch to get to speak in plain language. The best I could get from them was that they are currently reviewing the process and evaluation options.

GILGER: What’s the timetable? It’s been years already.

ESTES: Hopefully it will not be another full year. The goal is to get an RFP on the market this fall with an award made by April or May.

GILGER: KJZZ’s Christina Estes, thank you.

ESTES: You’re welcome.

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