OnStar receives rare accreditation as a top emergency dispatch center

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by Michelle Castillo, cbsnews.com
April 19th 2013

OnStar is now recognized by the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) as a Medical Accredited Center of Excellence.

The special accreditation has only been awarded to 4.25 percent of the 2,780 agencies -- most of which are 911 call centers -- that follow the IAED's protocols. They are the first non-emergency service and private company to receive the honor.

Over 17 years, OnStar has had to deal with almost 2 million emergency service calls. Panicked drivers have asked about everything from how to give CPR to a young child, how to help a woman in labor and how to treat a snake bite.  What sets OnStar's First Assist program on a higher bar is that they not only send first responders to the scenes of accidents, but provide emergency medical dispatch services to drivers and passengers. Trained employees have CPR certification, IAED certification and take OnStar Emergency courses so they can provide the correct advice in each situation.

Cathy Bishop, global emergency manager at OnStar, explained to CBSNews.com that less than half of 911 call centers have trained the medical call takers to provide further instruction. Bishop worked in a 911 call center in Metro Detroit for 18 years before being employed by OnStar.  "We've learned to fill a gap where there's an incident like a car crash or medical incident in the vehicle," she explained.  Bishop said when most people call 911, the operator can use their GPS system to help provide coordinates so first responders could find the people who needed help. But, without proper training all anyone could really do is say stay on the line, keep the person calm and let them know the ambulance is on the way.

OnStar First Assist emergency advisers follow the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS) protocall, a 911-style pre-arrival instruction and dispatch support system used by more than 600 million people. MPDS was developed by Dr. Jeff Clawson, an emergency physician. Clawson told CBSNews.com that he created the plan because he realized that phone clerks weren't trained to provide basic instructions during life-staving moments since most 911 operators weren't firefighters, police officers or paramedics.

"We train these people how to handle these calls, how to provide telephone instructions, how to interrogate -- all types of different things up to accelerator stuff when you can't stop the car," he said.

MPDS-trained operators know what questions to ask the victim so they can provide more information to first responders. This can cut down on valuable time so medical professionals can get straight to treating the patient in need. They can also provide basic advice so people in the car can assist the victim and not further their injuries.  While major metropolitan cities may have the majority of their staff trained with the MPDS protocol, Bishop and Clawson pointed out that if a person is traveling through rural America the person answering your 911 call might not have the experience and knowledge.

"In rural areas, medical and volunteer fire services act as goodwill employees," Clawson explained. "Often, they don't have the training. It's the luck of the draw where you might be during an emergency."

Bishop pointed out that the first responders and other medical professionals are still to be lauded for providing their often life-saving care. What OnStar is trying to do is help make their job easier.  "We're merely a conduit to what they do on scene," she explained. "If they don't arrive on the scene to assist the crash victim, we're not going to have a good outcome so we work in harmony together. It's a beneficial partnership."