Heather Darata

Heather Darata

Blast From The Past
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Whether you’ve been working in the communication center for a few months or years, you might not have given a lot of thought to the origin of OMEGA codes. For years, public safety entities believed in responding HOT (lights-and-siren) to any and all emergencies—whether or not that type of emergency needed that level of response. For some agencies, things started to change after the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS®) was introduced in 1979 — as that was its initial purpose. The Protocol allowed for agencies to locally determine response based on a new standard coding process and assign them specific, tiered Determinant Levels: ALPHA, BRAVO, CHARLIE, and DELTA.

Things further evolved with the introduction of OMEGA dispatch codes. The first OMEGA code—poisoning without priority symptoms—was added to the MPDS in Protocol 23: Overdose/Poisoning (Ingestion) in 1990. For accidental poisonings in children ages 1-11, EMDs selected the OMEGA code and referred callers to their regional Poison Control Center (PCC) by directly transferring the call. No mobile response was initially sent. If Poison Control, after expert evaluation, determined a mobile response was necessary, they informed dispatch. Made sense! Over time, this response has proven to be very safe for referral to a PCC when certain criteria have been met.

To build on the success of the first OMEGA code, additional things have happened over the years to usher in more cost-effective, resource-saving ways of handling certain situations.
First, other OMEGA codes have been approved for referral in the standard MPDS, once they were known to be safe options, which didn’t happen overnight. These codes currently include, with various qualifications, carbon monoxide detector alarms, EXPECTED DEATH, accidental POISONING, pregnancy water’s broken, MENTAL HEALTH CONDITIONS, various Sick Person codes, and Traffic Accident cases with no injuries. Second, a full, more comprehensive OMEGA protocol was developed for use only by agencies once accredited (ACEs)—to ensure high protocol compliance, guaranteeing predictable higher safety—with various options that expand OMEGA usage. These OMEGA codes can be used to refer patients to appropriate resources without sending an ambulance response at all.

OMEGA also paved the way for the later introduction of the Emergency Communication Nurse System (ECNS). This nurse triage system gives Recommended Levels of Care, continuing to save precious resources for responders, and save patients money from obviously unneeded trips to the emergency room while still providing more appropriate care options.

Read about the first OMEGA code in Dr. Jeff Clawson’s article titled Poison Control & the EMD, which appeared in the Summer 1990 issue of the Journal of Emergency Dispatch.