Call centers could help with public health crises

Report looks at leveraging resources

Leveraging the resources of established call centers to serve the public in the event of a health emergency is one of the strategies proposed in a recent report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

Developed by a panel of experts, the report contains strategies and tools to help community call centers respond to caller concerns about health risks, collect disease surveillance data, sort calls according to urgency, monitor or contact people quarantined at home, and help callers identify and take dispensed drugs appropriately.

The report recommends expanding the capabilities of nurse advice lines, health agency hotlines, poison control centers, and drug information centers.

To guide call centers in adapting for emergencies, a model called the Health Emergency Line for the Public (HELP) was developed. The model, developed by Denver Health under a contract with AHRQ, uses interactive response technology to provide public information and decision support related to health events in Colorado.

A blueprint for the HELP model is provided in the AHRQ report, along with four detailed interactive response applications for the model. The applications allow callers to use their touch-tone phones to automatically retrieve critical information during a public health emergency.

The interactive response applications are:

  • A quarantine/isolation monitoring application. This application can automatically place calls to individuals in home quarantine during a disease outbreak, such as pandemic influenza, to assess their health status. The application reports on those who don't answer so that follow-up can be conducted.
  • A point-of-dispensing locations application. This application can provide callers with locations for drug-dispensing sites in their county based on the caller's zip code.
  • A drug identification application that can support mass prophylaxis with antibiotic drugs. This application helps callers identify dispensed drugs, provides information on how to take them, and describes potential adverse reactions.
  • A library of frequently asked questions that can disseminate up-to-date, accurate, health department-approved information to the public and to health care providers. This application allows callers to navigate through a library of frequently asked questions to retrieve information relative to their concern.