The improved Los Angeles medical dispatch system prompted more callers with limited English proficiency to initiate telecommunicator-assisted cardiopulmonary resuscitation (T-CPR), compared with the previous system, a new study shows.
The Los Angeles Tiered Dispatch System (LA-TDS), adopted in late 2014, used simplified questions aimed at identifying cardiac arrest, compared with the city’s earlier Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS).
The result was substantially decreased call processing times, decreased “undertriage” of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA), and improved overall T-CPR rates (Resuscitation. 2020 Oct;155:74-81).
But now, a secondary analysis of the data shows there was a much higher jump in T-CPR rates among a small subset of callers with limited English proficiency, compared with those proficient in English (JAMA Network Open. 2021;4:e216827).
“This was an unanticipated, significant, and disproportionate change, but fortunately a very good change,” lead author Stephen Sanko, MD, said in an interview.
While the T-CPR rate among English-proficient callers increased from 55% with the MPDS to 67% with the LA-TDS (odds ratio, 1.66; P = .007), it rose from 28% to 69% (OR, 5.66; P = .003) among callers with limited English proficiency. In the adjusted analysis, the new LA-TDS was associated with a 69% higher prevalence of T-CPR among English-proficient callers, compared with a 350% greater prevalence among callers with limited English proficiency.
“The emergency communication process between a caller and 911 telecommunicator is more complex than we thought, and likely constitutes a unique subsubspecialty that interacts with fields as diverse as medicine, health equity, linguistics, sociology, consumer behavior and others,” said Sanko, who is from the division of emergency medical services at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
“Yet in spite of this complexity, we’re starting to be able to reproducibly classify elements of the emergency conversation that we believe are tied to outcomes we all care about. … Modulators of health disparities are present as early as the dispatch conversation, and, importantly, they can be intervened upon to promote improved outcomes,” he continued.
The retrospective cohort study was a predefined secondary analysis of a previously published study comparing telecommunicator management of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest over 3 months with the MPDS versus 3 months with the LA-TDS. The primary outcome was the number of patients who received telecommunicator-assisted chest compressions from callers with limited English proficiency.
Of the 597 emergency calls that met the inclusion criteria, 289 (48%) were in the MPDS cohort and 308 (52%) were in the LA-TDS cohort. In the MPDS cohort, 263 callers had English proficiency and 26 had limited proficiency; in the latter cohort, those figures were 273 and 35, respectively.
There were no significant differences between cohorts in the use of real-time translation services, which were employed 27%-31% of the time.
The reason for the overall T-CPR improvement is likely that the LA-TDS was tailored to the community needs, said Sanko. “Most people, including doctors, think of 911 dispatch as something simple and straightforward, like ordering a pizza or calling a ride share. [But] LA-TDS is a ‘home grown’ dispatch system whose structure, questions, and emergency instructions were all developed by EMS medical directors and telecommunicators with extensive experience in our community.”
That being said, the researchers acknowledge that the reason behind the bigger T-CPR boost in LEP callers remains unclear. Although the link between language and system was statistically significant, they noted “it was not an a priori hypothesis and appeared to be largely attributable to the low T-CPR rates for callers with limited English proficiency using MPDS.” Additionally, such callers were “remarkably under-represented” in the sample, “which included approximately 600 calls over two quarters in a large city,” said Dr Sanko.
“We hypothesize that a more direct structure, earlier commitment to treating patients with abnormal life status indicators as being suspected cardiac arrest cases, and earlier reassurance may have improved caller confidence that telecommunicators knew what they were doing. This in turn may have translated into an increased likelihood of bystander caller willingness to perform immediate life-saving maneuvers.”
Despite a number of limitations, “the study is important and highlights instructive topics for discussion that suggest potential next-step opportunities,” noted Richard Chocron, MD, PhD, Miranda Lewis, MD, and Thomas Rea, MD, MPH, in an invited commentary that accompanied the publication. Chocron is from the Paris University, Paris Research Cardiovascular Center, INSERM; Lewis is from the Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris; and Rea is from the Division of Emergency Medical Services, Public Health–Seattle & King County. Both Lewis and Rea are also at the University of Washington, Seattle.
“Sanko et al. found that approximately 10% of all emergency calls were classified as limited English proficiency calls in a community in which 19% of the population was considered to have limited English proficiency,” they added. “This finding suggests the possibility that populations with limited English proficiency are less likely to activate 911 for incidence of cardiac arrest. If true, this finding would compound the health disparity observed among those with limited English proficiency. This topic is important in that it transcends the role of EMS personnel and engages a broad spectrum of societal stakeholders. We must listen, learn, and ultimately deliver public safety resources to groups who have not been well served by conventional approaches.”
None of the authors or editorialists reported any conflicts of interest.
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.