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AHRQ report recommends use of existing call centers to expand communications in public health emergencies

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has released Adapting Community Call Centers for Crisis Support: A Model for Home-based Care and Monitoring, a new report that recommends expanding the capabilities of poison control centers, nurse advice lines, drug information centers, and health agency hotlines to assist persons at home or in public shelters in the event of public health emergencies such as biological attacks or pandemic influenza. The report and its four appendices include strategies for using these types of community call centers in the event of aerosol anthrax attacks or the outbreak of pandemic influenza, plague, or food contamination.

The report was developed under contract by Denver Health, a member of the AHRQ-funded Accelerating Change and Transformation in Organizations and Networks (ACTION) project. Guidance was provided by a national advisory panel of experts in emergency call center services, public health and epidemiology, emergency preparedness planning, health informatics, and other fields.

The strategies and tools are designed to help community call centers respond to callers concerned about their health risks; collect disease surveillance data; assist with sorting calls according to urgency and decision support for health concerns; assist with monitoring or contacting persons quarantined at home; help callers identify dispensed drugs, provide instructions on how to take them, and explain potential adverse reactions; and train health call center staff to identify callers who may benefit from referral to mental health care providers.

The appendices include a national planning scenario matrix that summarizes the 15 national planning scenarios developed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; an instructional document describing components of the HELP program, which is the operational platform of Denver Health's public health hotline; interactive response guidance for monitoring home-quarantined persons, identifying drugs and other needs; and information that call centers can use as part of a home management strategy for people with influenza.

Adapting Community Call Centers for Crisis Support: A Model for Home-based Care and Monitoring (AHRQ Publication No. 07-0048) can be found online at http://www.ahrq.gov/prep/callcenters/. A printed copy is also available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse.

AHRQ has funded more than 60 emergency preparedness-related studies, workshops, and conferences to help hospitals and health care systems prepare for public health emergencies. More information about these projects can be found online at http://www.ahrq.gov/prep/.

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