Using Data to Direct Emergency Services: Howard County CARES

March 10th, 2015 by Birch Barron

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Leaders in emergency service fields are frequently faced with difficult choices. Crucial decisions about where to allocate resources, time, and money are all too often based on habits and guesswork rather than reliable data. However, innovative programs across the country are increasingly demanding high-quality information to support decision making in the field. In support of this effort, CHHS is working with partners across Maryland to develop information management systems that promote a data-driven and evidenced-based approach to emergency response.

The goal is simple: build systems that produce easy-to-understand data that will help emergency services leaders address the most important decisions faced by their organizations. CHHS focuses on four key principles:

  1. Leaders should understand the value and use of data as a decision-making tool
  2. Information priorities should be well thought out and clearly defined
  3. Data systems should align with established information priorities
  4. Data is only as valuable as the manner in which it is communicated

A recent collaboration with the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services (HCDFRS) illustrates the value of a well-designed emergency services data system. CHHS has been working with the HCDFRS Office of the Medical Director to streamline EMS data management. Howard County is recognized as a national leader in out-of-hospital cardiac arrest response, and the constant pursuit of quality improvement requires targeted information systems that meet the high standard set in the field.

In a meeting with CHHS in early 2014, the Medical Director at HCDFRS described the response elements that are most essential to cardiac arrest survival in the jurisdiction. Keys to survival include increasing the occurrence of bystander CPR, improving dispatch-assisted CPR, reducing EMS response time, improving EMS CPR quality, and promoting early defibrillation. Although existing data systems provided the minimal information necessary to complete annual reports, the leadership at Howard County Fire and Rescue wanted more.

In its partnership with HCDFRS, CHHS is now working to close the gaps between existing data systems and the response factors that make a difference on the ground. Intelligently designed data management systems will allow leaders in Howard County to approach strategic decisions with a wealth of targeted information at their fingertips. Data dashboards and progress reports will provide access to response and demographic trends at the touch of a button, while rapid CPR performance feedback will ensure that responders are delivering services at the peak of their capacity. Ultimately, patient outcome tracking and analysis provides the fundamental link between high-quality response systems and improved survival.

As an extension of this project, CHHS is working closely with Howard County to expand cardiac arrest survival improvement efforts beyond jurisdictional lines. In a promising collaboration with the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS) and the Cardiac Arrest Registry to Enhance Survival (CARES), HCDFRS is serving as the pilot site for a statewide cardiac arrest data management system. Using Howard County data systems to guide the pilot process, this partnership will soon put outcome-oriented quality improvement data into the hands of every EMS system in the state.

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