Identifying Key Words in 9-1-1 Calls for Stroke: A Mixed Methods Approach

Prehosp Emerg Care. 2017 Nov-Dec;21(6):761-766. doi: 10.1080/10903127.2017.1332124. Epub 2017 Jun 29.


Objectives: Identifying stroke during a 9-1-1 call is critical to timely prehospital care. However, emergency medical dispatchers (EMDs) recognize stroke in less than half of 9-1-1 calls, potentially due to the words used by callers to communicate stroke signs and symptoms. We hypothesized that callers do not typically use words and phrases considered to be classical descriptors of stroke, such as focal neurologic deficits, but that a mixed-methods approach can identify words and phrases commonly used by 9-1-1 callers to describe acute stroke victims.

Methods: We performed a mixed-method, retrospective study of 9-1-1 call audio recordings for adult patients with confirmed stroke who were transported by ambulance in a large urban city. Content analysis, a qualitative methodology, and computational linguistics, a quantitative methodology, were used to identify key words and phrases used by 9-1-1 callers to describe acute stroke victims. Because a caller's level of emotional distress contributes to the communication during a 9-1-1 call, the Emotional Content and Cooperation Score was scored by a multidisciplinary team.

Results: A total of 110 9-1-1 calls, received between June and September 2013, were analyzed. EMDs recognized stroke in 48% of calls, and the emotional state of most callers (95%) was calm. In 77% of calls in which EMDs recognized stroke, callers specifically used the word "stroke"; however, the word "stroke" was used in only 38% of calls. Vague, non-specific words and phrases were used to describe stroke victims' symptoms in 55% of calls, and 45% of callers used distractor words and phrases suggestive of non-stroke emergencies. Focal neurologic symptoms were described in 39% of calls. Computational linguistics identified 9 key words that were more commonly used in calls where the EMD identified stroke. These words were concordant with terms identified through qualitative content analysis.

Conclusions: Most 9-1-1 callers used vague, non-specific, or distractor words and phrases and infrequently provide classic stroke descriptions during 9-1-1 calls for stroke. Both qualitative and quantitative methodologies identified similar key words and phrases associated with accurate EMD stroke recognition. This study suggests that tools incorporating commonly used words and phrases could potentially improve EMD stroke recognition.

Keywords: emergency medical dispatch; emergency medical service communication systems; emergency medical services; prehospital care; stroke.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Ambulances
  • Communication*
  • Emergency Medical Service Communication Systems*
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Stroke / complications
  • Stroke / diagnosis*
  • Stroke / psychology