Talk less, listen more, drop the attitude

Sometimes I just have to scratch the itch and have a rant.  This time the itch is a recurrent one, about radio communication.

We have a large number of graduate paramedics starting with Ambulance Victoria this year, so it’s probably a good time to revisit a topic that seems to receive surprisingly little attention in an industry that relies so heavily upon it.

So, some generic tips for everyone new to talking on radios (and perhaps for more than a few who are not so new…)

Talk less. 

Radio air time can be a very scarce commodity.  We have a very large service, which is growing rapidly.  That means that there are a lot of people who need to talk on the radio at various times.  The longer you chatter away, the less time they have to get their message across, and it may be (hard to imagine though this is) that their need is greater than yours.

Think about what you want to say before you say it, and try to get it as concise as possible.  Maybe even write it down on a post-it note or piece of paper (we used to have little white boards in the back of ambulances to jot stuff on before calling through to hospital.  Might be a good idea to revisit this)
You likely practice CPR, cannulation, airway insertion and all the fun stuff, but I guarantee that you will spend more time talking on the radio than doing those things.  It therefore makes sense to practice communication as well.

When it comes to passing clinical details to a hospital, we have a systematic approach to use: IMIST.  Learn it, use it.  When it comes to requesting MICA backup, I personally prefer it if you are even more concise: just tell me what is wrong.  “Anterior STEMI”  “Severe asthma” “Unconscious head injury.”  Honestly, the run down of vital signs doesn’t interest me much: if the patient is critically ill, thy are likely to change, and irrespective of this, I will review the patient before I commit to a clinical pathway anyway.
I realise that some MICA paramedics want to know everything, including last oral intake, last bowel motion, star sign, football team followed and so forth, but personally I don’t see the point in all that.

Listen more.

This is something that has been giving me the irrits lately.  When you are at work and in your ambulance, you have a responsibility to respond to the dispatcher on the radio when called.  It doesn’t matter whether you are getting coffee, or on the way to a job, you need to be contactable on the radio.
Too often I hear dispatchers repeatedly trying to get hold of crews, and even having to selcal their radios when the crew is out and about.

Dispatchers have a far harder job than you could imagine, and they don’t need you making their lives more difficult by not listening to your radio.  Not only that, but the information they want to give you may be important.  Dispatchers like to give you nuggets of information sometimes like: “CPR is now in progress”, or “There is a machete wielding maniac on scene.”  Little gems like that can really make a difference, so do yourself (and everyone else) a favour by listening out…

Drop the attitude.

As mentioned, dispatchers have a tough job, arguably tougher than yours (seriously, go and watch them work for a few hours).  What they don’t need is attitude on the radio to make their day worse, any more than you do.  So whatever kind of day you are having, be professional and courteous when you talk to them.

Some specifics.

These are a couple of things that are annoying me the most at the moment, so allow me to get them off my chest:

Responding to a case with “Are we closest to that?” or “Responding from (wherever)”

Yes you are.  That is why you are being sent.

You may have noticed that the ambulance service is big on response times (indeed, this a fairly common theme amongst emergency services).  This means that wherever possible the closest ambulance is sent to high priority cases.  So don’t ask, it makes you sound like a whiny, lazy dick.

Also, the dispatcher knows where you are responding from.  They can see where you are at all times.  So when you say this, all you are doing is, again, sounding like a lazy whiny dick (but a passive aggressive one as well).  You are at work, go do work.

Requesting police.

As a general rule, police like to know why they are being requested.  In fact, if you don’t give the dispatcher a reason why you want police, chances are the police won’t come.

So make life easier for everyone, and let the dispatcher know why you want police, and whether you are safe or not, as this will help the police prioritise your request.
For example, “Can we have police, as I am currently being murdered with knives” will get a more urgent response from police than “Can we have police for a drunk person in the street”, and a similar response to “Can we have police to share our doughnuts with”

In all seriousness though, it’s as simple as saying “Can we please have police for a section 351, we are safe”, or whatever the case may be.
If you are not safe, the duress button is the best way to summon help quickly, but make sure you don’t abuse it.  For example, if a drunk person trips over in your general direction when police are already on scene, don’t push your duress button.  If you are actually in fear of something bad happening, by all means, do push it.  (If you are fearful of a drunk tripping over in your general direction, perhaps paramedicine isn’t the career for you…)
It’s worth having a read of the policy and procedure that we have governing radio communication, and practicing the actual use of radios with your Clinical Instructor.
Doing so will help avoid me sitting up at 1am writing any further rants, and the whole FOAM world will thank you….

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One Response to Talk less, listen more, drop the attitude

  1. Jenny Moncur says:

    YES!!!
    Thankyou!!
    As a dispatcher in a past life I can relate to all these comments from the other side of the radio.
    Another pet peeve is paramedics that call their car sign and then launch on into the message without waiting for acknowledgement that the dispatcher is ready to receive that message.
    There are some serial offenders out there and sometimes I am barely able to restrain myself from getting on the radio and yelling ‘STFU until its your turn!!!!!’, but I digress.

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