How Virginia’s Office of Emergency Medical Services Innovated through Analytics During COVID

How Virginia’s Office of Emergency Medical Services Innovated through Analytics During COVID

Virginia’s Office of Emergency Medical Services oversees 600 agencies, 4,000 vehicles, and more than 36,000 EMS providers across the Commonwealth of Virginia. As the first line of response in any public health crisis, OEMS faced the unprecedented challenge of maintaining its existing quality of care while responding to the new demands of COVID-19. Nearly every process, from EMT training to medication distribution, had to evolve in a matter of weeks.

Associate Director Adam Harrell oversees all IT projects impacting emergency medical operations. Over the past 15 years, Harrell has spearheaded the development of OEMS’ data analytics programs. The organization’s advanced data management and business intelligence capabilities played an important role in their pandemic response, helping Harrell’s team rapidly modify programs and processes.

“Early in the pandemic, making sure that all of our EMS providers had the right PPE was, of course the primary focus,” explained Harrell. “Then it shifted to test kits, so teams could make sure their personnel weren’t infected, and more recently it’s been access to vaccines.”

OEMS was already using predictive analytics to optimize resource allocation, which allowed them to incorporate COVID metrics quickly.

“We’re constantly monitoring key metrics for our business operations, everything from fluctuations in the number of providers to revenue streams to incident trends,” said Harrell. “We monitor the number of opioid overdoses, for example, so we can have targeted distribution of Narcan to EMS agencies that are seeing higher levels of overdoses in their regions.”

Virginia EMS Infographic

Because the Commonwealth already had the necessary data analytics, dashboards, and visualization tools in place, they were able to keep up as resource needs evolved throughout COVID.

“When we had PPE shortages early in the pandemic, we developed a process to analyze data in our patient care reporting system to determine how much PPE was being used in a day so we could forecast the PPE needs of specific agencies and help them procure it.”

Now OEMS is working with agencies across the state to allocate EMS providers as vaccinators where they are needed most.

OEMS’ existing dashboards also helped Harrell’s team alert healthcare providers about public health issues exacerbated by COVID-19. For example, in late Spring 2020, there was a dramatic decrease in the volume of 911 calls year-over-year, but the severity of the calls noticeably increased. The data showed that constituents were hesitant to call 911 out of fear of contracting COVID, which ultimately led to worse outcomes. When they noticed this trend, EMS shared the data with healthcare providers and advocacy groups so they could reassure the public and urge them to call 911 when they needed emergency care.

Like many OEMS employees, Harrell is a former EMS provider. He was a paramedic in a rural Virginia community for 10 years. As the agency worked to support public health during COVID-19, they worked equally as diligently to support the safety and mental health of EMS providers.“All of us were EMS providers in another life. And because of that, we’re trying to both improve patient outcomes and support the providers. We know what they go through, and we want to do everything we can to help them so we can mitigate burnout and turnover.”

Supporting the mental health of a distributed workforce is complex, especially during a public health crisis, so Harrell and his team used survey tools and sentiment analysis to collect as much data as possible about the mindsets of EMS workers.

“One of the first things we did after the pandemic hit was to use a survey tool to collect and share data with EMS agency and jurisdictional leaders on the mental health of their EMS providers,” said Harrell. This data helped leaders tailor communication and support programs.

The majority of the Office of Emergency Medical Service’s onsite employees transitioned to a remote working model in March 2020, as did the 750 EMS educators the department supports. Fortunately, EMS was able to quickly provide those educators with the video tools, learning management systems, and content resources they needed. Harrell’s team has also implemented analytics tools to study the efficacy of different learning modalities and methodologies.

“We want to know more than whether someone passed or failed a course,” Harrell reports. “Did they eventually join an EMS agency in their community? If not, why not? This is all part of understanding education outcomes so that we can create career paths and further professionalize EMS work.”

Thanks to the organization’s comprehensive data management and business intelligence capabilities, Harrell’s team was able to implement changes quickly when the pandemic hit, many of which will have long-lasting positive impacts on community health.

Adam Harrell, MBA, NRP, Associate Director of the Office of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) at the Virginia Department of Health

Adam is responsible for EMS operations, community health and technical resources across Virginia. He is also the state CMS data manager and oversees all IT projects impacting emergency medical operations. In 2020, Adam managed the collection and analysis of data related to training, career development and mental health for the more than 36K EMS providers responding to COVID and other medical emergencies in the Commonwealth. He evaluates the 1.6M EMS patient encounters every year and provides operational data to optimize resource allocation and procurement of the 4K EMS vehicles, PPE and other medical equipment in use across the state.