Handling of emergency medical calls upgraded Cards help city dispatchers ascertain problem better

October 31, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A hysterical woman dials 911, trying to get help for a friend who apparently suffered a heart attack.

"He came to visit, and he had a beer, and he was sitting at the table and talking, and now he's blue," she tells Cynthia Tucker, a Baltimore emergency fire dispatcher, who is asking a series of questions.

The caller demands to know when the ambulance will arrive, and Tucker assures her that help is minutes away.

What the woman doesn't know is that Tucker's questions are part of a new protocol designed to provide better care. Not only will the paramedics have more information when they arrive, but Tucker will have talked the woman through cardiopulmonary resuscitation, helping her save her friend's life.

The protocol is called the Advanced Medical Priority Dispatch System and is widely used on the West Coast and in Dade County, Fla. Basically, it is a set of cards that dispatchers can use to help assess a patient's condition.

"It's a way to help people quick, especially during life-threatening injuries or illnesses," said Capt. James L. Porter, a supervisor in the city dispatcher center and coordinator of the program, which is being implemented statewide and is to be announced at a news conference today.

"All we are doing is questioning the caller to find out what is going on with the patient," Porter said.

What it means is that people who call 911 for medical help are being kept on the telephone longer and asked a list of standard questions that fire officials say will save lives.

Ambulances are responding as quickly as always, but crews now arrive with specific information needed to treat patients without losing precious seconds or even minutes at the scene.

Dispatchers are now more likely to keep a caller on the line until help arrives and can talk callers through preliminary treatment.

The system is being used in Anne Arundel and Howard counties, PTC and Baltimore County is training its dispatchers on how to use it.

Before this system went into effect three months ago, city dispatchers often did not find out enough details for paramedic crews.

For example, a call for a woman about to deliver a baby routinely was dispatched as an obstetrics case. Now, the responders will learn whether the woman is experiencing labor pains, her water has broken or she can see the baby's head.

Baltimore police officers also have been given wallet-size cards with the standard questions so they know what information to request of a patient and tell the dispatcher. It is designed to avoid this type of typical call for an ambulance: "Man down on the street."

"That could be anything from a full seizure to someone taking a nap," Porter said.

The seven questions asked of all callers are: exact location of the incident; phone number of the caller; the exact problem; how many people are hurt or sick; age of the patient(s); whether the patient is conscious; and whether he or she is breathing.

If, for example, the problem is an apparent heart attack, the dispatcher will flip through the cards to find another series of questions, such as whether the patient is alert, sweaty or changing color. Based on the answers, a priority code is assigned.

Fire officials said that the new system will not shorten response time. The information is used so paramedics know what to prepare for. Fire engines are routinely dispatched to medical calls simply because there are more engines.

The city has 18 ambulances and more than 100 fire engines based in 46 fire stations. All firefighters are certified emergency medical technicians.

Pub Date: 10/31/97

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