What Happens Behind The Scenes When You Call 911

911 call dispatcher for emergency

Nobody likes to consider the worst and imagine a time where they might need to call 911 for an emergency ambulance service. We prefer to think of ambulance crews as rescuers in the absolute worse case scenarios of life or death. In other words, people ignore the possibility that they may one day need the service themselves.

Ambulances aren’t just for the critically ill or major accidents. Ambulances are useful for other situations affecting health or injury that may require hospitalization. This frequency of use is why it is so important that everyone understands the 9-1-1 service a little better.

The following guide takes readers through the journey of making the call 911 and interactions with the ambulance service. The aim here is to help people better understand what to expect from the dispatcher, the medical crew, the trip to the hospital, and the 911 call itself. There is also some information at the end of staying prepared for this situation. This guide includes the following:

  1. Staying on the line with the coordinators
  2. The ambulance team that will arrive at the scene
  3. The journey to hospital, and the choice over the destination
  4. Other preparedness considerations such as medical information and costs.

Staying On The Line


It all starts with calling 911 to report an emergency. The 911 call connects to a control station with a local dispatcher. These trained professionals have a clear view of the wider area. They can see the location and availability of the ambulances contracted to their department. Callers will indicate the basics of the location, situation and who the patient is. This immediately allows controllers to contact the ambulance service closest to the area and give the team the basic information on the case.

Callers then need to stay on the line for further information and support. The call isn’t over until the dispatcher is sure that the paramedics are on the scene. There has to be a clear transfer of care where patients and relatives aren’t on their own.

Callers will stay on the line with the control center to provide information on the situation beyond the basic problem and location. There are situations where medical attention is necessary straight away. Examples include putting pressure on a wound or performing CPR. A dispatcher can guide people through this situation while an ambulance is en route.

Answering all the right questions with clarity and patience

There are many different questions that 911 operators will ask over the phone. Some of these questions may seem to have little relevance to the situation. Yet, every answer that is given paints a clearer picture of the patient, injury, and general situation. This could be information about the nature of an injury, such as the amount of blood loss and the location of the wound.

Complications could lead to questions about medications, breathing difficulties and other symptoms. Operators will work through a clear script to make sure they cover all areas.

It is also important to remember to stay patient while talking with a 911 operator or dispatcher. It is completely understandable that many patients or relatives would react badly. It is easy to get angry, impatient and frustrated with the situation.  All family members just want the situation to be over and done with.

Many people don’t realize that all those questions are important, even if it doesn’t seem that way at the time. There is a big problem with control staff receiving abuse over seemingly pointless questions or the length of the wait. Cursing and raised voices won’t help. Those that patiently work with the dispatcher can provide better information about the situation. This information is then relayed to the ambulance team for a better service.

Source:  fccdotgovvideo

The Ambulance Team

There is a requirement that a team of responders will arrive by ambulance within 9 minutes of the initial call. This should mean no more than 9 minutes spent talking to the dispatcher and answering those questions. It is sure to feel like much longer for some people.

Generally, this crew comprises a paramedic and emergency medical technician. Together, this duo should have the skill and knowledge for the job. The EMT will help to monitor the condition of the patient and their vital signs. These professionals have training in basic first aid and CPR.

The paramedic has a broader skill set. They will be able to offer more hands-on treatment and care, such as invasive procedures or the administration of pain medication.

Yet, there may potentially be other professionals depending on the circumstances. Specialists could arrive on the scene to handle specific cases on location. This all depends on the situation and the availability of staff. This chance of specialist care is one of the reasons why it is so important to answer every question in a calm, careful manner. The clearer the information the better the chance of matching the right team and equipment to the job.

The equipment is an important part of the service. It is vital that the team has everything it needs at hand on the ambulance. Prior information on the injuries or condition of the patient will also dictate with pieces they bring into the location. These decisions can make a big difference to the treatment and the time spent at the scene.

Treatment at the scene and the possibility of an ambulance transfer

These teams will use all the tools they can to stabilize a patient and deal with the situation on location. Where possible, it is always preferable to treat patients at home without the need for hospitalization. The team with treat the patient, check for additional problems and complication and assess the situation. Many will be able to patch up injuries and administer suitable care. Others will decide to take the patient to the hospital.

The choice depends on the seriousness of the case and the risk of complications. For example, it may be a case of better safe than sorry with seniors that fall because of secondary health risks. If a hospital trip is in order, the team will bring in the right equipment to safely bring patients to the ambulance and prep them for transfer.

Source:  Stryker EMS

Getting To Hospital

Once the patient is secure on the ambulance, the team can transport them to the best medical facility. There are two main aims at this point. Ambulance staff in the back of the vehicle will continue to monitor the vitals of the patient and administer care. These team members are ready to respond in case a condition worsens or a patient goes into cardiac arrest. The other priority here is a safe, speedy journey to the right hospital. The driver will take the best route to the hospital, one with minimal risks to those in the back of the vehicle.

There is the potential for relatives to come along too on this journey, but only if there is space. Again relatives must be patient and considerate, even though they are sure to feel concerned and stressed by the situation. Relatives can provide comfort to patients and help staff learn more about the incident and the patient’s medical history. Relatives that work with the paramedics can be a great asset. Yet, there is no shame in deciding to follow behind by car. The ambulance environment can be too overwhelming for some people.

The choice of hospital and a paramedic’s right to overrule

One concern for anyone in this situation is the location of the hospital. Some patients with chronic health issues may have a relationship with a certain hospital and its medics. Other patients may simply have a bias towards a facility based on its reputation. There are times when patients can have a say in choosing the destination. This will depend on the nature of the case.

Low-level hospitalization situations can allow for a change of route if it will benefit the patient long term. It may be worth driving further in these non-emergency situations if the patient will receive the precise care they need.

However, paramedics do have to right to overrule that decision in certain situations. For example, a patient may insist on a transfer to a hospital that they are familiar with, but it could be too far away. This is possible in life-threatening situations, or if accidents occur a long way from home.

Also, a patient’s regular medical facility may not be fully equipped to handle the situation. For example, a patient with severe heart failure or burns requires help from the best possible unit. This may be 5 minutes further and at an unfamiliar hospital. But, that decision could result in life-saving care. Whatever the paramedics decide, patients and relatives need to trust that decision. There is no point in debating the idea when every minute counts. All emergency ambulance teams will place the care and survival of the patient beyond anything else.

Staying Prepared And Costs

One way to stay prepared for an interaction with an ambulance crew is to have medical information on hand. A file of medical documents and notes is a great way of providing everything that paramedics need in one place. This system is especially helpful for those with complicated medical histories or support needs. A file like this is also helpful if there are patients or seniors with DNR orders in place.

Quick access to this document reduces the risk of medics accidentally going against the ruling. Another simple tool that can help with preparedness is a medical alert bracelet. This wearable aid helps alert paramedics to key conditions and allergies. Therefore, they can make decisions about care that won’t put patients at risk. This solution is ideal if a patient is unconscious and unable to communicate.

The alternative to a file full of paperwork and documents is to use an app. This modern, high-tech option should provide clearer information for paramedics. Smartphone apps are a handy, digital way of collecting all those care considerations in one place. It should be easy to read and use. This app is also helpful for anyone that suffers an accident or relapse of an illness away from home. There is more chance of patients carrying their phone than physical documentation.

Considering The Costs Involved

Nobody wants to start adding up the potential costs of care when there is an emergency situation in progress. But, it does help to have a better understanding of the different costs involved in ambulance services and transfers. Costs will vary between different regions, but it can be around the $1000 mark for basic transportation. This cost may increase if patients need additional support and expensive equipment. This cost should come under the coverage of the patient’s health insurance. Emergency care and hospitalization are part of the essential health benefit requirements. Still, those that take up new short-term health insurance plans may need to read the small print. Medicare plans cover the first 80% of the costs. Private insurance coverage will vary and many have a co-payment for this service.

911 call ambulance

Ambulances Services Are Always There To Help

It may seem as though there is a lot to remember and consider when you need to call 911. The process of dispatching the ambulance to arrive at a hospital is precise but doesn’t need to be overly complicated. Communication and cohesion are vital for the best experience. Patients and relatives that communicate with dispatchers and paramedics will receive better care. A cohesive system between the control and the emergency team allows for the right treatment and quick transfers. Whatever the emergency or location, these teams want the best outcome from their patients at all times.

There are ways that anyone can prepare themselves for the possibility of an ambulance transfer. Familiarity with the 911 system and the approach of the dispatcher is essential. This knowledge should help callers remain a little calmer and helpful in an emergency. Knowledge about the ambulance crew and transfer process can help in what is a scary situation. Then there are all the other rights and preparations to keep in mind. The hope is that no-one ever has to experience any of this first hand. But, there is always the chance that injury and illness could strike anyone, anytime. This information is a safety net in case the worst happens.

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