Search Terms: Priority system, emergency instructions, Jeff J. Clawson, important role, medical emergencies, Medical priority dispatch system, training, requirements, protocol, medical instructions over the phone, flip cards, prioritizes, standards, Sun-Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale Florida, first responder, September 1991

Sun-Sentinel; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; September 1991
Chele Caughron, Sun-Sentinel staff writer

Priority System relays emergency instructions before ambulance arrives

Jeff J. Clawson was an ambulance driver when he first realized the important role dispatchers play in medical emergencies.

Now a doctor and medical director for the Salt lake County Fire Department in Utah, Clawson has designed a system to help dispatchers do even more.

He refers to his creation, the Medical Priority Dispatch System, as sort of a recipe file for dispatchers to give medical instructions over the telephone before an ambulance ever arrives at the emergency scene.

"The dispatcher is indeed the first first responder," Clawson said. "They can guide the person through the do's and don'ts."

Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue as well as dispatchers in Boca Raton, Delray Beach, and Boynton Beach now use Clawson‚s system to aid people who call 911 with a medical emergency.

For example, if a person calls to report that someone is having trouble breathing, he will be asked the following questions:

    • Is he alert and able to talk?
    • Is he choking?
    • Is he pale, sweaty or changing colors?
    • Does he have any heart problems?
    • Does he have asthma?

The instructions callers are given depend on the answers dispatchers receive.

"The dispatcher can have a profound effect with just a nickel's worth of information," Clawson said. "The protocol is actually a manual computer."

In the past, many departments prohibited their dispatchers from giving medical instructions over the telephone. Local governments did not want to take the risk of a dispatcher giving out false or inadequate medical advice and the lawsuits that might follow. Other department officials simply did not think dispatchers could handle giving out medical information.

"The dispatcher initially was like a clerk," Clawson said. "What dispatchers ought to be seen as is air traffic controllers, but what they do is 10 times as stressful. Every time the phone rings it's the equivalent of somebody in a crisis."

The flip cards in Medical Priority Dispatch System are prepared to cover nearly any kind of medical call: back pain, choking, diabetic problems, drowning, electrocution, overdose, gunshot wound, stroke.

"Dispatchers personally don't see themselves as medical personnel, but what they do is medical in every sense of the word. They just do it in 60 seconds," Clawson said. "The system prioritizes the actions of the dispatcher so the dispatcher minimizes and maximizes actions."

Clawson, who is also president of the National Academy of Emergency Medical Dispatch, said he came up with the idea for the system in 1978 and developed it in his basement in Salt Lake City. The doctor had a hard time pitching the life-saving medical recipe cards, however.

"Initially it was very controversial. We couldn't give it away with a $100 bill glued to it," Clawson said. "Since that time things have gone 180 degrees."

Now the Medical Priority Emergency System is considered one of the standards for emergency medical dispatchers, area dispatch supervisors said.

"It brings expert care to the mouth of the dispatchers," Clawson said.