Objective: Certain forms of stroke can be treated if access to medical care is expeditious. Since many stroke victims first enter medical care through emergency medical services (EMS) access, minimizing delays in the EMS system may translate to improved neurologic outcome. Because EMS dispatchers determine the response priority for these calls, dispatchers should be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of stroke based on their brief phone interviews. The authors studied the abilities of dispatchers in a major urban area to correctly identify stroke and transient ischemic attack (TIA) in victims who access 911 and describe what is communicated in the 911 call.
Methods: A retrospective review was conducted of the medical records of patients treated for stroke or TIA at two urban hospitals during 1996. The tape-recorded 911 calls from patients using EMS were transcribed and analyzed. Information regarding dispatcher classification and triage of these calls was collected and described.
Result: The records of 182 patients with acute stroke or TIA were reviewed. Fifty-three percent of patients used EMS. Dispatchers coded 31% of their 911 calls as stroke. The word "stroke" was used without prompting by 51% of callers, yet fewer than half of these calls were coded as stroke by dispatchers. Many callers reported symptoms characteristic of stroke, including impaired communication (36%), weakness (30%), and decreased ability to stand or walk (25%). Only 41% of ambulances were sent at high priority.
Conclusion: People who activate EMS for stroke frequently use the word "stroke" and/or describe symptoms compatible with stroke in their calls. EMS dispatch protocols should be sensitive for these symptoms to ensure more accurate and timely ambulance dispatch.