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Florida Agency Develops “When to Call 911” Education Materials

Oct 20, 2011

About five years ago, Lake EMS in Florida saw a large uptick in the number of people wanting to “go to the front of the line” at the hospital – and calling an ambulance to make that happen, even if it wasn't medically necessary. With March being a busy month in the area, some in the community saw calling an ambulance as a way to skip the wait they were sure to encounter at the hospital, diverting resources away from true emergencies and wasting county and agency dollars, said Jim Judge, Executive Director of Lake EMS and NAEMT Director for Region II.

The county also does its own billing, Judge said, and with about 60 percent of its patients on Medicare, it began to track the number of patients for whom Medicare wouldn't pay the cost of unnecessary ambulance transport. It was clear that the agency had to take action to prevent community residents from using ambulances as taxis.

The agency did research and found that this issue was appearing on a national and even international level, Judge said. To counter it, London Ambulance had created a program called “Use Them, Don't Abuse Them,” and National EMS Week had created a “Make the Right Call” campaign, which was being promoted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Lake EMS hired a firm to create a specific program for its community called “When to Call 911.” It was one of the first public education programs of its kind to educate the public on ambulance usage, with a large reach. The agency promoted the message on local billboards and on posters that they placed in local clubs, centers and communities. “As a result, we saw a significant decline in the abuse of our ambulance services,” Judge said.

The program is still getting a lot of attention – the agency has talked to other states interested in developing their own programs, and the program recently was featured in Fire Chief Magazine.

To learn more about the program and how to adapt it for your community, visit