How Everbridge saved South Western Ambulance Service £80,000


The South Western Ambulance Service NHS Trust is saving around £80,000 a year after improving how it communicates with first-responders.

Covering the whole of South West England, the trust is responsible for getting ambulances and paramedics on the scene of emergencies as quickly as possible and notifies hospitals, police, fire brigades and the Red Cross of any major incidents.

But with communication such an essential role for the trust, it was hamstrung by its 10-year-old messaging tool that many staff were too nervous to use.

Computer says no

Called iModus, owned at the time by emergency comms provider Vocal, only around five people at the trust were confident using the communication platform to organise responses to major incidents and to find staff to attend callouts.

The South Western Ambulance control room would use iModus to perform a cascade call of up to 70 organisations in the event of a major incident, including the police, fire brigades and local hospitals, then direct them to call another number where iModus would play them a recorded message notifying them of the incident.

Oliver Tovey, resilience manager at the trust, tells Cloud Pro: "It was quite elongated and a cascade on iModus could take anything up to an hour, so if you're the last organisation to be contacted, you're the last one to find out."

iModus also caused South Western Ambulance Service trouble when trying to locate first responders to attend emergency incidents.

The system sent texts alerts to paramedics to check if they could attend a call out, but grouped all paramedics working for the trust together, regardless of what area they covered, or where the incident was.

"That meant that overtime shifts in Penzance were going out to paramedics all over the trust," explains Tovey.

Because of the admin issues and the way staff were grouped on the system, iModus was rarely used by staff at the trust.

"They went out of their way to avoid using iModus," says Tovey. "They'd pick up the phone or use mobile data terminals in the vehicles and hope for the best."

He admits the trust may have started looking for an alternative system, but when SaaS UC provider Everbridge acquired Vocal in March 2014, it decided to replace iModus with Everbridge, instead.

Bridging the communication gap

The "painless" five-month implementation of the cloud-based UC platform finished a year ago, with the trust going at its own pace, helped by regular conference calls with Everbridge to talk Tovey and his team through the process.

"It completely exceeded all of our expectations," says Tovey. "One benefit Everbridge gave us was specific targeting of messages to our staff. Not only did that not annoy them every five minutes because the messages were now relevant, but it meant we could actually get a much richer response."

The trust had control over the system's backend, so it could create new groups, delete old ones, and change existing groups to ensure the right messages were sent to the right people.

Everbridge's first big tests came in April this year, after two trains collided at Plymouth Railway Station, injuring 18 people. A week later, police found 21 illegal immigrants stowed in the back of a refrigerated lorry in Chippenham who required medical attention.

Using Everbridge, the trust was able to notify hospitals and other public services within three minutes of the train crash – compared to the hour-long cascade process of iModus - giving them more time to prepare. The trust's control room also contacted 177 paramedics, 33 of whom instantly responded to say they could attend the job.

In the incident a week later, 273 paramedics offered to attend.

"If something like Paris or Brussels or Nice happens, Everbridge has given us that confidence and assurance that we can call on our staff to come back in and effect the response," says Tovey. "If we did have a full-scale terrorist attack then we have that assurance that staff will react."

Rather than rely just on text messages, as iModus did, Everbridge allowed the trust to not only use SMS, but also to convert that one message through text-to-speech to notify hospitals by telephone during a cascade process.

The trust could also send emails and app notifications to its paramedics, who can download the app on their smartphones.

One communication system to rule them all

The wide range of communication methods Everbridge supports meant the trust was able to cut out mobile phone contracts it was paying for and eliminate use of, a text message service others relied on.

Tovey surveyed the trust's various departments' communications use, and discovered that by routing all their communications through Everbridge, the trust is saving between £70,000 and £80,000 a year.

"That's a cost-saving for the trust that equates to five or six extra ambulances we can put out on the road," he explains, adding that it also means he can contact anybody at the trust through Everbridge.

Everyone has a login for the system as well, allowing them to update their mobile phone numbers and email addresses if they change, so there's no danger of out of date details preventing communication. Tovey also worked with the trust's HR department to automatically add new starters to the system, a process that is opt-out, rather than opt-in as with iModus.

Tovey wants to increase the trust's use of Everbridge in future to make communication even more effective.

"They offer instant logs and escalation notifications, which we're really interested in," he says. "We want to share trust news with our local community. We can offer them text messages or app notifications about weather warnings.

"At the same time I've been playing with technology whereby if a paramedic on the M5 has the app, he can get a message back to control if they break down or are stuck in heavy traffic."