Patients are at risk every time an ambulance is called because Ottawa's dispatch system is outdated and doesn't classify calls very well, says one doctor.

He is asking the province to change the system to one adopted in other areas of North America - including Toronto, which has had it for more than 20 years.

"When a caller calls in, the dispatcher uses a computerized system that takes information, filters it out and gives it to ambulances in the field with some priority," says Justin Maloney.

The Niagara region is implementing a pilot project for this same system, and once the results from it are evaluated in about six months, it could be expanded to other regions across Canada.

Ontario's auditor general agrees a new approach is needed.

"There's an ambulance being sent in many cases that it's not an emergency, and that ambulance can be available for real ones," says Alain Lalonde.

Lalonde adds that the longer Ottawa waits for a better system, the more likely it is that people will get sicker than they need to.

"As long as ambulance response times are slow . . . then patients with chest pain, seizures, asthma attacks, trauma cases, get slower ambulance response," he says.

With a report from CTV Ottawa's Vanessa Lee