084 124: What’s waiting for you on the other end of the line?

When you call 084 124, you’re put through to a state-of-the-art emergency contact centre. But who is there to take your call – and what happens next? Here’s how our highly trained and dedicated operators, using sophisticated dispatching software, mapping technology and medical databases, are leading the way in EMS technology.

“ER24’s call centre service has been completely overhauled in just the past four years,” says Shakira Cassim, Manager: ER24 Contact Centres. “Our technological capabilities have grown immensely, and we’ve invested in human capital too.”

The secret ingredient behind this rapid, large-scale growth? ER24 has repositioned its contacted centres to function at the core of its emergency service.

“084 124 is an enabler,” says Cassim. “By dialling that number our patients are starting their ER24 journey. So, in this sense it is a selling point: we believe our contact centres are unlike any other in SA. And to maintain that status, to retain the trust of our patients, we must innovate, continuously.”

There are two main elements to any call centre, Cassim explains: getting calls in, and capturing information. At ER24, these are managed by Avaya IP Office PABX technology, and a custom core application designed by Tech Mahindra. These cutting-edge telephony and customer-relationship management (CRM) systems have helped ER24 lead the way into the future of EMS technology in SA.

Cassim says the systems behind ER24’s contact centres are fully scalable irrespective of call volumes. “There has been a major investment in the systems that manage our contact centres, to ensure we are capable of integrating with the other systems we work with.” This also means the centres are capable of accommodating new clients and new call volumes without any effect on quality of service.

As a call comes in, these integrated systems allow ER24’s operators to quickly and efficiently capture the details and data they need to configure a comprehensive picture of any emergency – and in this way, coordinate the best possible care on the ground.

“We have three core call centres, situated in the centre of Gauteng. Our staff totals around 270, and at any given time, we have 100 members dedicated to taking calls. All together, these centres facilitate two million calls a month.” The contact centre operators – known as emergency resource officers – work 12-hour shifts on a two-day, two-night and four-off rotational basis.

“The biggest shift has been in our people,” she says. “When I arrived at ER24, the understanding was that no one but a clinically trained individual was able to take a call. This is a very high standard – but it meant in reality that our vacancy rate was very high, and we struggled to fill positions and place the right people in the right seats.”

Cassim recognised that over time, this could have a compromising effect on care. “We realised that if we customised and streamlined our systems, we could offer expert care without requiring our operators to be clinically trained. Now, in ER24’s contact centre, our staff are trained in running and managing the CRM systems, and our algorithms guide them in logging the call accurately and efficiently. By working on our environment in this way, we can provide an effective response on the ground much quicker – which is ultimately what helps our patients.”

ER24 has a fully-equipped, dedicated training and quality assurance team, embedded within the contact centre environment. The contact centre team also includes specialists and experts in various fields, from registered nurses and clinical coordinators and inter-facility transfer agents, strategically placed to offer training and expertise where needed.

“I began my ER24 career in 2014, and in that time, there has been a paradigm shift in how we think of the contact centres. Before, ER24’s contact centre was considered a private ambulatory service, however through the evolution and strategic investments we have cemented ourselves as a comprehensive medical assistance service globally.”

This is no small tweak, Cassim says – it is a reflection of how ER24’s business model itself has changed. Because they have been identified as a core element of the company’s service, ER24’s contact centres have benefitted from a great deal of strategic initiative from the top down.