by Art Braunschweiger
If you ever thought it was easy being a Q, you’re wrong. ED-Qs (Emergency Dispatch Quality Assurance reviewers) have more than their share of frustrations. The one I hear most often is, “Why can’t they just read the questions as they’re written?” Well, it’s not as simple as that. (If you’re not a Q, keep reading—this column is really for you.)
In my travels for Priority Dispatch Corp. (PDC), it’s not uncommon to hold a ProQA class for dispatchers who’ve been using the software for a while, but who never had any formal training in its use. When running through scenarios in class, frequently those dispatchers will alter the wording on Case Entry or Key Questions. If the protocols aren’t new to them, and they’ve been receiving feedback on their performance, why do they do it?
I would love for the Council of Research to do a study on the psychology of dispatchers (although finding out what makes a dispatcher tick might be downright scary). Psychology definitely plays a part. To put it another way, our own brain is our worst enemy. Post-Dispatch Instructions are pretty straightforward, yet when my new agency went live with ProQA medical, that’s where dispatchers strayed the most. My partner said she had difficulty sticking to the script because “That’s not the way I would say it. It feels very awkward reading them the way they’re written.” Another dispatcher predicted he would never be compliant for the same reason.
When we have to rely on someone as a partner in no-room-for-error situations, whether dispatching or mountain climbing, that trust has to be absolute. And it’s not earned lightly. Ask any rock climber who has to put her full body weight on a piton her partner drove into a crack on a sheer rock face a thousand feet up.
Understandably, it’s difficult to have implicit trust in someone you don’t know. As Emergency Medical Dispatchers, we have a silent partner in the form of the protocols that we’re expected to rely on without knowing much about them. It can be hard to accept them on faith, and that leads to altering the wording of protocol questions and instructions to something we have more confidence in. We can’t help it—it’s our nature. (Q’s, are you listening?)
Consider a blind person who has to learn to rely on a guide dog to navigate where he can’t see. Similarly, we have to rely on the protocols to guide us in a blind dispatch environment. Guide dogs for the blind are highly developed before they’re turned over to their handlers. So are the protocols. For the most part, dispatchers like us are the ones who cast the final votes of approval on changes to the protocol script. Is the new wording more effective? Did this question have to be clarified less often than the way it was previously worded?
Sooner or later the blind person has to trust his canine companion when he steps off the curb into the street. Faith says go forward when instinct says pull back. It takes a conscious effort to do that. So does sticking to the script when our instinct says not to. You have to step off the curb a couple times before you develop the confidence to see that what’s guiding you really does work. That’s important, because there’s no room for hesitation or uncertainty in EMD. So here’s a challenge: For the next week, resist the urge to alter the protocol script. Say it like you really believe it. I’m sure that what feels awkward on Day 1 you’ll be saying with confidence on Day 7. Let the protocols earn your trust, and see what they can do for you.