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Ambulance software causes headaches for UI officials

BY MATT STARNS | SEPTEMBER 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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Officials are having trouble tracking trends in alcohol-related ambulance calls.

Following a 2010 upgrade in the Johnson County Ambulance Service's incident software — which changed the protocol for what is considered an alcohol-related call — University of Iowa officials are unable to compare current statistics with those of previous years.

Before the upgrade, an incident was recorded by the Ambulance Service as alcohol-related if any person involved was intoxicated.

The new software upgrade changes this, only flagging the incident as alcohol-related if the patient is intoxicated.

"The way they're collecting it now is probably a more objective way," said Doug Beardsley, the director of Johnson County Public Health. "It focuses on the condition of the person being attended."

Tom Rocklin, the UI vice president for Student Life, told *The Daily Iowan* last week that because of the software upgrade, university officials will use different methods to track changes in students' alcohol behavior.

He said they will rely more heavily on numbers from emergency-room admissions to indicate trends in student-related alcohol incidents, at least until there is a greater depth of Ambulance Service statistics recorded with the new version of the software.

Ambulance Service upgraded the software last year when TriTech Software Systems — the company that provides the Ambulance Service with the software — began phasing out an older version and providing a free upgrade to the new version.

Steve Spenler, the director of the Ambula`nce Service, said the software initially cost the Ambulance Service $10,250 when implemented in 2003. There is also a yearly support fee of $3,900.

Spenler said the service's inability to directly compare numbers of alcohol-related incidents from current records and years previous isn't a large concern.

"[It's] actually a very minor issue relating to our patient-care reporting software," he said.

Spenler said this disadvantage is outweighed by the improvements afforded by the new version of the software.

"The new product is more versatile," he said. "You can use it on tablets, whereas the old one was mostly tied to a desktop PC." He also said many ambulances have mobile laptop units that are running the software, expediting patient reporting.

Despite the inability to compare current data with previous years' numbers, UI officials said they don't foresee long-term problems arising from the upgrade.

"It's not going to change what we're doing," said Kelly Bender, the coordinator of Campus Community Harm Reduction Initiatives. "[Johnson County] ambulance data are an important part, but we look at other data, too."

Bender said the change will be only a temporary setback in tracking alcohol-related incidents.

"These things happen," she said. "We also look at alcohol-related emergency-room data, so this change won't cause a big problem."


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