The Importance of Communication on 911 Calls

Working as a volunteer firefighter and EMT, I get a great view of the overall community that I was born in and have live in for twenty years. If you were to ask the vast majority of people who we receive 911 calls about they would claim to be healthy. Many of these residents suffer from medical conditions that would not be labeled healthy by those in the medical community. Two of the biggest problems that face my community are due to preventable diseases that are easily combatted. Those problems are overeating and smoking. While on the surface these patients may seem to be healthy and live a fairly functional life, they are usually dealing with a lesser quality of life subject to many 911 calls because of these problems. Whether the patient has to live the rest of their life hooked up to an oxygen tank or are bed ridden and can only leave their homes with assistance, they still claim to be healthy. Understanding their medical condition can sometimes be difficult due to communicating that they actually have a problem. When we answer their call we ask for a SAMPLE history. That stands for Signs and Symptoms, Allergies, Medication, Past Illnesses, Last Oral Intake and Events Leading Up to the Call. While a SAMPLE history is a good way to find out what is wrong with the patient, it is not always accurate based on the patients description and their overall mental status. The SAMPLE history in addition to the patient’s vital signs and the primary and secondary assessments are a good way to understanding what is really going on with the patient in a medical way of view.

After obtaining the necessary information to learn what is really going on with the patient clinically, it is important to communicate what you have learned to two very different types of people. One being the patient and the other being the medical facility that you are transporting them to. When communicating to the patient, it is important to not use overly medical jargon that the patient might not understand. When describing where their pain is it is best not to use locations such as proximal and distal but instead near and distant from a familiar location, not the actual medical definition of where the pain is. Contrast that way of communication to how we communicate to the Emergency Department that we deliver them to is night and day. When we call in to the Emergency Department we go through everything that we learned from the patient and sometimes offer our clinical diagnosis of what we think that the patient is suffering from. Both ways of communicating are equally important to make sure that the patient gets the proper care that they need.

At the end of the day, communication in the medical field is one of the most important aspects of patient care. When all goes wrong in the back of the ambulance the EMT needs to be able to communicate the problems that arise with both the patient, driver and the medical personal that needs to prepare for the delivery of the patient


One thought on “The Importance of Communication on 911 Calls

  1. This whole topic is incredibly important. It’s always interesting to me how instincts and our highly tuned evolution can get in the way when we introduce technology. On the one hand, it was great to have adrenaline surging and our flight or flight response has no doubt gotten our species to where it is today, comfortably at the top of the food chain by a margin never before seen in our worlds history. That same reaction, however, inhibits out ability to calmly and effectively explain a problem to a ‘9-1-1’ operator. If removed from the panic and adrenaline inducing situation, it seems likely that a vast majority of the population could effectively communicate over the phone to someone asking specific questions about your surroundings. Now add in the hormone that saved our ancestors in the exact same situation, and its all chaos. Truly fascinating stuff.


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