If you’re reading this, you probably already believe in the importance of data and evidence in decision making. You are probably already interested in learning more about how dispatch operates “behind the scenes”—how dispatching standards originate and evolve. You may also be hoping to be able to apply data, research, and standards to your own dispatch operations. In all of these respects, emergency dispatching has come a long way in the past 35 years.
In one area, however, we are still finding our way: outcomes research. While clinical and medical researchers, for example, have studied patient outcomes for decades, emergency dispatch researchers are only just beginning to move in that direction.
An “outcome” is any data point or measurable finding that explains what actually happened to the case, patient, or call. For example, a patient’s survival (or not) is one outcome we might be interested in measuring. Another outcome that is always of interest to emergency dispatch is time, especially how long it takes to perform critical dispatch and response functions. Thus, outcomes research is any study or set of studies that compares the actions taken (such as dispatch prioritization, response type, etc.) with specific outcomes to tell us whether what we are doing is actually working.
The value of outcomes research, in other words, is that it can tell us how our actions are actually affecting the wellbeing of the patient or victim, the effectiveness of the responders, or the efficiency of the system as a whole.
In this issue, we have gathered several outcomes studies that help us to see what really happens when dispatchers or responders take, or don’t take, certain actions in critical situations. In particular, we focus on two of the most time-critical incident types that dispatchers handle: strokes and cardiac arrests.
The two original research pieces focus on stroke. In the first, the value of the Stroke Diagnostic Tool is demonstrated by showing that emergency medical dispatchers who used the Tool correctly identified more strokes than responders in the field identified. In the second, a group of Chinese researchers reports on the implementation of new dispatch and prehospital care processes for stroke patients, demonstrating that the new processes improve a number of patient health outcome measures.
Following those, two pieces on cardiac arrest demonstrate the cutting edge in outcomes research for this highly time-critical condition. The case study applies the new American Heart Association recommended performance standard for hands-on-chest time, providing insight and a methodology for agencies attempting to use the new standard to perform their own outcomes studies. Finally, the research spotlight—a new feature for AEDR—summarizes recent EMS response outcomes research that may be relevant to the work of dispatch agencies, and offers an interview with author Scott Youngquist.
Whatever your role in the emergency dispatch or response universe, outcomes are increasingly important for decision making and for justifying how we work. Here at the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch, we constantly strive to stay true to our mission of using evidence to determine, and implement, the highest standards of care and practice. Outcomes research, including the pieces in this issue, are the gold standard for doing so.
As always, we hope the work we’ve included here is enlightening and useful. Thank you for reading!
Isabel Gardett, PhD