“If you miss that first step in the chain of survival, there is no second step”-Emergency ambulance call-takers' experiences in managing out-of-hospital cardiac arrest calls

Nirukshi Perera, Tanya Birnie, Austin Whiteside, Stephen Ball, Judith Finn

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3 Citations (Scopus)


When a person has an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA), calling the ambulance for help is the first link in the chain of survival. Ambulance call-takers guide the caller to perform lifesaving interventions on the patient before the paramedics arrive at the scene, therefore, their actions, decisions and communication are integral to saving the patient's life. In 2021, we conducted open-ended interviews with 10 ambulance call-takers with the aim of understanding their experiences of managing these phone calls; and to explore their views on using a standardised call protocol and triage system for OHCA calls. We took a realist/essentialist methodological approach and applied an inductive, semantic and reflexive thematic analysis to the interview data to yield four main themes expressed by the call-takers: 1) time-critical nature of OHCA calls; 2) the call-taking process; 3) caller management; 4) protecting the self. The study found that call-takers demonstrated deep reflection on their roles in, not only helping the patient, but also the callers and bystanders to manage a potentially distressing event. Call-takers expressed their confidence in using a structured call-taking process and noted the importance of skills and traits such as active listening, probing, empathy and intuition, based on experience, in order to supplement the use of a standardised system in managing the emergency. This study highlights the often under-acknowledged yet critical role of the ambulance call-taker in being the first member of an emergency medical service that is contacted in the event of an OHCA.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0279521
Number of pages22
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023

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