Emergency call operators may not have to deal with hoax calls clogging the phone lines, thanks to world-first technology being developed by the University of Southern Queensland.
Computer scientist Dr Rajib Rana has received a $300,000 Advance Queensland COVID-19 Industry Research Fellowship to develop a distress inference system.
The system will use artificial intelligence algorithms to automatically determine distress levels in people’s voices and allow call handlers, dispatchers and clinicians to identify hoax calls so they can prioritise services to callers who are most at risk.
Dr Rana said the technology had never been more important.
“Time is precious when responding to calls that are life-and-death situations, but unfortunately about one-third of calls made to emergency helplines are hoax calls, which waste valuable resources and place lives at risk,” Dr Rana said.
“Health services experience a large number of mental health service requests, but this distress interference system will enable call operators to effectively manage high volumes of calls, provide earlier intervention and assist in faster ambulance deployment times to potentially save lives.”
Dr Rana’s research focuses on artificial intelligence, machine learning and automatic emotion recognition.
The project will build on his previous work recognising specific emotions related to distress, and will be conducted with Metro North Hospital and Health Service and digital health and wellbeing solutions provider NetCare.
The first trial of the distress interference system will be implemented through Metro North Mental Health access line 1300 MH CALL.
Dr Rana said while there were many distress screening tools available, none were suitable for time-critical emergencies.
“The advantage of this project is not only can it prepare for future health crises, but it is also well-positioned to help prepare for other future crises known to cause distress in people, such as bushfires, droughts and floods,” he said.
“We’ve already received interest from the Queensland Police Service, Lifeline and Cancer Council Queensland on trialling the system when it is developed.”
Dr Rana’s project ‘Using Artificial Intelligence to prioritise emergency calls for suicide prevention due to COVID-19 pandemic’ is supported by an Advance Queensland COVID-19 Industry Research Fellowship provided by the Queensland Government.
The Fellowship supports researchers collaborating with industry to undertake original research that addresses the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery, or preparedness for possible future pandemics or similar scale events.