EMS data helps address Cincinnati heroin crisis — can we do this across Ohio?

The Cincinnati Insights web site has become a vital resource for fighting the heroin epidemic and efficiently managing community resources, delivering multiple solutions to people who are intervening in different ways.

Last fall, Leigh Tami was at a conference in Chicago when she received an “Oh my God” message from back home. Cincinnati had been struck by a major outbreak of heroin overdoses caused by the synthetic additive, carfentanil.

As director of the office of performance and data analytics for the city, she asked her staff to begin mapping the overdose calls.

Her department is breaking ground in the field of data analysis for the efficient management of municipal resources. Their model: Open Baltimore Beta. With access to all city fire and EMS calls, they quickly made major discoveries by exploring the data from paramedics.

Peak time for overdoses is middle of the week, and certain neighborhoods were experiencing the most. By placing medic units on duty in the correct places and best times, they reduced response time and were able to maintain larger staff when it was needed.

They also learned that if a victim is completely revived with Narcan to the  beginning stages of withdrawal, they often are agitated and refuse transport to the hospital. The hospital is where officials want them to go because that’s where victims are most likely to receive counseling and a route to rehabilitation.

After the site had was fully populated, Tami said she attended a neighborhood informational session on how to administer Narcan and found that the group giving the lesson was using her office’s dashboard to direct its own resources to attacking the crisis.

Tami said that patient privacy isn’t a problem — there are two different databases at play. One is the raw EMS dispatch report — call came in, address, it’s an overdose, time. There is a followup on whether the person was transported. A separate database contains the patient information, which is communicated to the hospital. That information is protected.

The platform host for the Cincinnati Insights pages is Socrata. The mapping software is from Tableau.

In thinking about how this could be done elsewhere in Ohio, she said that dispatching centers would be the place to begin. They all have the data. Coding doesn’t have to be universal across all EMS entities, but they do have to be consistent in how they code information. (If I am reading this Ohio EMS document correctly, state law requires standardization of coding.)

Can this be a model for other cities, or joint dispatch districts?

Here’s the challenge: Economically distressed working class neighborhoods tend to be at the epicenter for the epidemic. Economically distressed communities often are hard-pressed for cash. The Ohio Emergency Medical Services web site is full of news items about units struggling to keep pace.

Are you more likely to die if you live in one of those communities, and more likely to live if you live in a community with a rich tax base? Sounds like the school funding issue again.

Leigh said this has to be viewed as an investment. Spend the money to gather and analyze the data, save money in the long run as people are served more efficiently AND effectively.

What else do we need to know about this particular effort?

How does this affect the staffing of EMS units?

Should there be training on how much Narcan to use?

Should ALL overdoses be transported to the hospital, regardless of freedom to choose otherwise?

What do you want your local news organization to find out for you?

—Doug Oplinger, Coordinator/editor, Your Voice Ohio