‘Tell me exactly what's happened’: When linguistic choices affect the efficiency of emergency calls for cardiac arrest

Marine Riou, Stephen Ball, T. A. Williams, Austin Whiteside, Kay L. O'Halloran, Janet Bray, Gavin D. Perkins, Karen Smith, Peter Cameron, Daniel M. Fatovich, Madoka Inoue, Paul Bailey, Deon Brink, Judith Finn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Background Clear and efficient communication between emergency caller and call-taker is crucial to timely ambulance dispatch. We aimed to explore the impact of linguistic variation in the delivery of the prompt “okay, tell me exactly what happened” on the way callers describe the emergency in the Medical Priority Dispatch System®. Methods We analysed 188 emergency calls for cases of paramedic-confirmed out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. We investigated the linguistic features of the prompt “okay, tell me exactly what happened” in relation to the format (report vs. narrative) of the caller's response. In addition, we compared calls with report vs. narrative responses in the length of response and time to dispatch. Results Callers were more likely to respond with a report format when call-takers used the present perfect (“what's happened”) rather than the simple past (“what happened”) (Adjusted Odds Ratio [AOR] 4.07; 95% Confidence Interval [95%CI] 2.05–8.28, p < 0.001). Reports were significantly shorter than narrative responses (9 s vs. 18 s, p < 0.001), and were associated with less time to dispatch (50 s vs. 58s, p = 0.002). Conclusion These results suggest that linguistic variations in the way the scripted sentences of a protocol are delivered can have an impact on the efficiency with which call-takers process emergency calls. A better understanding of interactional dynamics between caller and call-taker may translate into improvements of dispatch performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-65
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017


  • Communication
  • Conversation analysis
  • Dispatch
  • Emergency calls
  • Emergency medical services
  • Out-of-hospital cardiac arrest

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