April 1, 2016

Residents of Alberta will soon be able to “tap” for an ambulance with Alberta Health Services’ new “TAP-ulance” smartphone app.

The app, which will be rolled out in Edmonton first and then throughout the rest of the province, provides “new market-based emergency care solutions focused on patient choice,” AHS said in a news release.

The release said AHS believes the smartphone app will offer major improvements in emergency care service throughout Alberta and is expected to help solve the crisis in ambulance wait times experienced since AHS took over local and regional ambulance services in 2009.

“The addition of an entirely separate fleet of owner-operated ambulances providing different levels of care will significantly reduce the stress on the traditional ambulance fleet, which AHS customers will continue to be able to reach by conventional means, such as telephone emergency lines or flagging down a passing fire truck or police car,” the province-wide health care agency said.

There will be some differences, the release noted. To access TAP-ulance, emergency care customers must register online in advance for the app and provide a valid credit card account number. “This will help eliminate the problem of customers who are unwilling or unable to pay the fees required to operate our fleet of conventional ambulances,” AHS said. Fees for the call will be billed directly to the app-user’s credit card. All major credit cards will be accepted.

In addition, AHS noted, fees may be higher during periods of peak demand, for example, during summer long weekends when the numbers of highway accidents typically increase and after terrorist attacks or sports riots.

TAP-ulance will be available in two levels, “TAP-ulanceRX and TAP-ulance Premium,” the release added. TAP-ulanceRX will use vehicles equipped with a basic gurney and some first-aid equipment operated by the driver, while TAP-ulance Premium will offer full traditional ambulances with luxury fittings such as leather gurneys, a premium sound system and a ride-along attendant. There will be a separate fee structure for each level of service.

The news release did not explain the level of training that will be required for TAP-ulance drivers, or whether they will be required to wait at hospital emergency rooms until patients are admitted. “Those questions are still under study,” an AHS spokesperson said. “Basic care levels will be no different than they are now. There will simply be more emergency vehicles in service.”

“I can tell you the TAP-ulance app will include features that allow customers to rate the quality of service provided by an emergency vehicle, the knowledge level shown by the driver, the cleanliness of the gurney and the kind of music played during the trip to hospital,” the spokesperson said. “We expect a full selection of country, classical, pop hits and jazz to be available.”

AHS said TAP-ulance emergency vehicles will circulate throughout the city at all hours, and the closest vehicle providing the desired level of care will be assigned as soon as a customer taps the app.

Paramedics represented by the Alberta Union of Health Care Employees (AUHCE) criticized the plan, claiming poorly trained drivers should not operate emergency vehicles alone and may not know the way to the city’s hospitals, and that people in medical distress should never be asked to make decisions about the level of care they require.

The AHS spokesperson dismissed these concerns, suggesting paramedics are “just trying to preserve their union’s monopoly on ambulatory emergency care services.”

“AHS simply wishes to provide customers with the opportunity to choose the level of emergency care that is right for them,” the spokesperson said.

AUHCE paramedics say they are considering a protest demonstration at AHS Headquarters that could snarl traffic in downtown Edmonton.

OK everyone, calm down. Check the date. This is just an April Fool joke. I made everything up in this post, even the quotes. There is no TAP-ulance. There is no Alberta Union of Health Care Employees. There was no press release. Nothing like this would ever actually be considered by Alberta Health Services … at least as long as the NDP remains in power. DJC

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...