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Dispatchers say valuable time wasted during 911 calls

HONOLULU (KHON2) - Every second counts in an emergency and some dispatchers tell KHON2 valuable time is being wasted when they answer 911 calls.

They say they're now being forced to ask questions that are unnecessary before sending an ambulance.

This comes at a time when the state is looking at ways to improve EMS systems around the state. and dispatchers say this goes against that goal.

EMS says on average, they received 266 calls a day last year on Oahu. 

Dispatchers have to ask critical questions like the patient's age, symptoms, and what happened. But in the past month, dispatchers say they've been forced to go through a whole list of computer suggested questions like does the patient have difficulty between breaths? Is the patient pale or clammy? That's before sending an ambulance. 

Priority Dispatch which sets these protocols, says they're not that time consuming.

"Everything that's said and every keystroke that's taken in the computer system is logged and timed. So we know the average time to get to a dispatch point on case entry is 15.5 seconds," said Dr. Jeff Clawson of Priority Dispatch.

Dispatchers didn't want to go on camera in fear of losing their job. But they say they already know when to send an ambulance after a couple of questions. 

Dr. Clawson set the protocols and standards, and says the system determines if instructions can be given by phone for CPR or the Heimlich maneuver. It also makes better use of resources which saves more time in the end.

"We don't want to misuse that stuff. And the difference in getting to a choking patient say, in four or five minutes that's being treated over the phone as they're responding. If it takes 15 minutes, that's a death sentence," said Dr. Clawson.

Dispatchers say they have to ask the questions verbatim, which isn't easily understood if the 911 caller doesn't speak proper English. But Dr. Clawson says there's a good reason for it.

"I'll tell you, if you don't give the instruction especially, or ask the question the first time as it is written, that's a failure to follow protocol and you can be sued for negligence for that," he said.

Dr. Clawson adds that this system is used all over the country and several other countries. So it has been researched and tested.


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