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Clinical Telephone Assessment

SA Ambulance Service (SAAS) is developing a Clinical Telephone Assessment service to strengthen our management of Triple Zero calls.

Clinical Telephone Assessment means a clinician may discuss symptoms and care options over the phone with callers whose condition is not urgent. Clinical Telephone Assessment is expected to start in mid-2020 and will:

  • Identify the most appropriate care for non-urgent patients
  • Reduce delays for these patients and streamline their access to care
  • Leave more ambulances available for urgent cases
  • Ease pressure on hospital emergency departments

Our first-stage assessment of Triple Zero calls will not change and urgent cases will continue to receive an emergency ambulance response.

Why is this change being made?

SAAS receives hundreds of Triple Zero calls every day and thankfully many of them don’t need an emergency response.

However, these non-urgent patients often wait longer for an ambulance response and hospital treatment.  They’re also most likely to end up delayed on hospital ramps.

And we know a hospital emergency department is not always the most appropriate place for people with less serious conditions.

Streamlining access to treatment

For non-urgent patients, Clinical Telephone Assessment will provide the opportunity for a detailed clinical assessment by an experienced paramedic who will assess their symptoms and concerns to identify the most appropriate care options for them.

That care could include:

  • Ambulance transport to hospital – either urgent or non-urgent
  • Care at home from a SAAS Extended Care Paramedic
  • Transport or referral to a Priority Care Centre
  • Community-based treatment
  • Home-based care
  • Referral to a Locum GP service for a home visit
  • Referral to their own GP

This is a patient-focused approach and decisions about care options will be made in collaboration with the patient or their carer.

Who will provide Clinical Telephone Assessment?

Clinical Telephone Assessment will be delivered by paramedics with on-road experience and tele-health training.

They’ll be using Odyssey, a powerful clinical triage system that can assess multiple symptoms simultaneously to quickly produce a clinical assessment and recommend the most appropriate care.

Importantly, the Odyssey system also quickly identifies any potentially life threatening or serious conditions, allowing an ambulance to be despatched if necessary.

How is it different to the current system?

Our current system is highly effective in quickly identifying and assigning resources for more urgent cases. This is called primary triage and is done by people who are not paramedics, whereas Clinical Telephone Assessment will be carried out by experienced paramedics.

Clinical Telephone Assessment staff will take callers through a more detailed clinical assessment and have more capacity to identify options for patients who may have complex needs even though their condition is not urgent.

Currently almost all Triple Zero callers receive an ambulance response, with many non-urgent patients being transported to a hospital emergency department.

Using Clinical Telephone Assessment, we will be able to guide more of these patients to more appropriate care for their situation.

Clinical Telephone Triage will also:

  • Give non-urgent callers faster access to a clinical assessment from a clinically-trained paramedic
  • Streamline non-urgent patients’ access to treatment and reduce delays for these patients
  • Ease pressure on hospital emergency departments by providing non-urgent patients with access to other care pathways


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The content on this page is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia Licence, unless indicated otherwise.
To attribute this material, cite SA Ambulance Service, 2020.