Chris Olola Ph. D – Director, Biomedical informatics and Research – International Academies of Emergency Dispatch, exhibits topics of research presented at NAVIGATOR 2019.
The word “research” has some pretty dull connotations, right? You might be thinking that it’ll be a miracle if anyone even reads past the headline. You might also be thinking that research is too boring or too academic. You might be skeptical that the people who are doing research have a realistic view of the field they’re investigating. Or maybe you know that research is theoretically valuable to you in both your personal and professional life, but think that often it’s so hard to read that it may as well not exist at all. What’s the point?
Most people get interested in reading and participating in research because they have a question. It’s as simple as that. They wondered: How are lights-and-siren responses affecting our agencies’ response times? Why are callers reluctant to perform CPR on patients? Is dispatch-assisted CPR even effective in helping resuscitate patients? How long should you wait before hanging up on a silent caller?
And the good news is that those questions already have answers! Getting involved with research doesn’t always mean starting from scratch. Sometimes it means that you use the answers that other people found to improve your performance or satisfy your own curiosity.
Does that sound too good to be true? Maybe you’ve seen one of the articles answering the questions above and couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Where do you even start? Luckily for you, the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch® (IAED™) is the world’s leading expert on emergency dispatch research and science, and we have some tips and tricks to help you make research work for you.
One of the most convenient things about research is you can cultivate your experience so it fits your needs and interests. Although there are dozens of forms that can be used to present research findings, in this article we’re going to focus on the three forms used for the Annals of Emergency Dispatch and Response (AEDR): research papers, research posters, and research briefs.
The following secret is guaranteed to blow your mind and change your life. You don’t have to read an entire research paper in order to get a good grasp on what it’s saying. In fact, most people—even other researchers—don’t usually read the entire research paper. Unlike an article or a book, it isn’t designed to be read from start to finish. If you’re looking for a way to get the general gist of the question being asked and answered, all you need to read is the abstract. It comes at the beginning of the paper and gives you all the information you need in just a couple of paragraphs.
The abstract tells you: why the researchers thought about studying this (background), what they wanted this to accomplish (objectives), what they did and when (methods), what happened (results), and what it means (conclusions). That’s it. The whole project distilled down to, generally, fewer than 500 words.
What if reading or skimming the whole abstract is still too daunting? What if you don’t have the time? Hit up the conclusions section at the end of the abstract. It’ll tell you the “what” and “why” of the paper in even fewer words than the overall abstract. If anything in there catches your interest, you can go back to the section about it to get a more in-depth perspective. It’s like reading the end of the book before you read anything else so you know what happens and don’t have to live in suspense. That’s encouraged in research. There’s too much information out there not to get to the good stuff first to find out if it answers your question. If it doesn’t? You can move right along and find another paper.
Click here to access the AEDR https://aedrjournal.org/
If you’re not convinced that reading research papers is for you, maybe give research posters a whirl. The best research posters easily communicate their information at a glance through graphics and/or pictures. The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” is well-known (if clichéd) for a reason. With research posters, you can read the title to find out what question is being asked and then look at the graphics to find out what the answer is.
If you learn better when someone is explaining a concept to you (as opposed to reading about it on your own), research posters are a great place to start. Generally, they are meant to be displayed at conferences (like NAVIGATOR and NENA’s Annual Conference & Expo) with the poster presenter standing alongside to answer any questions. Research is supposed to be a conversation. Maybe you agree. Maybe you disagree. Maybe you aren’t sure how conclusions have been reached by the researcher. That’s what the presentations are for—to ask questions! Those presenting their findings in this manner will be more than happy to engage with you.
What if you found a research poster outside of a conference setting? Does that mean the conversation between you and the researcher can’t happen? Of course it doesn’t. Most research posters will have the authors’ contact information on them to encourage people to chat with them about it. The information will usually include their email address or phone number, so don’t be shy—if you don’t know how to start the conversation, ask them how they came up with the idea in the first place.
Click here to learn more about the Academy’s poster research https://aedrjournal.org/posters/
So you’re not quite comfortable with reading the research paper abstracts and aren’t ready to engage in a meaningful conversation with a research poster author. Is your journey to learning more about emergency dispatch research done? Not necessarily! The IAED also produces research briefs, which have graphics, like research posters, and have the added bonus of being clear and concise. They often include an example of how the research was applied by someone in the field of emergency dispatch or a related field (EMS, fire, or police).
Because emergency dispatch is a worldwide topic, the IAED has made some of the research briefs also available in German, French, Italian, and Dutch. You can get Continuing Dispatch Education (CDE) credit for reading them and taking a corresponding quiz on the College of Emergency Dispatch. Not only will you be building your research-comprehension skills, you can also work toward your recertification at the same time.
Similar to the research briefs, you can also get CDE credit and dip your toes into research by listening to the IAED’s podcast “Dispatch in Depth.” Each episode is a conversation with researchers about their questions, answers, and everything in between. You can listen to it on the AEDR website, SoundCloud, iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Click here to read the Research Briefs https://aedrjournal.org/research-briefs/
One thing to look for in any kind of research—no matter the form or location of said research—is whether or not the findings have been peer reviewed. Peer review is like the fact checking: It shores up the findings and makes sure that researchers can’t just present whatever results they wanted to find instead of what they actually found. The people who do peer review are usually considered to be experts or specialists in the field, meaning that their perspective has experience and weight.
Peer reviewers have several jobs. First, they make sure that the paper’s methodology is sound, which means that the study and results can be duplicated. One of the aims of coming up with research findings is for people to then apply them in their own settings. If the methodology isn’t sound or replicable, it doesn’t move the conversation around the question forward. Second, they make sure that the results are plausible and well-presented and that the interpretation of the results is valid. Again, the whole point of research is to come up with an answer to a question, and that answer needs to make sense. If the researchers haven’t connected the dots quite right, the peer reviewer points it out and the findings aren’t published until it’s corrected.
If two papers investigating the same question come to dramatically different results, do some investigating yourself. Find out if both have been peer reviewed and by whom. In the age of excessive information, it’s a good skill to be able to sort out valid from nonvalid sources not just on emergency dispatch-related topics but for any topic that’s important to you.
Potentially problematic pre-alerts
This theory stuff is all well and good, but how about a concrete example? Dawn Faudere worked for Johnson County Emergency Communications Center (JCECC) in Olathe, Kansas (USA), as an Operations Supervisor. While she was reviewing calls as part of her EMD-Q® duties, she noticed that the center’s rapid post approach didn’t seem to be the most efficient use of resources. Also called “pre-alerts,” rapid post sends out responding units prior to the calltaker coming up with a determinant code in ProQA®. The reasoning behind pre-alerting is that it saves significant time, which then has a significant impact on the patient outcome. Faudere wasn’t so sure that’s what was actually happening. Time and time again she saw units that had been pre-alerted get canceled because there had been no real reason to send them out the door to begin with, especially not with lights-and-siren.
Faudere used the data from her center to try to figure out what was really going on. She used FirstWatch to find calls that were “mismatched”—calls where the responding units were sent out as high priority but turned out to be a low priority situation (or vice versa). She compared the dispatch data with ambulance service data (including the paramedic impression and Glasgow Coma Scale) and patient information. Faudere needed a way to prove that the process of taking a call correctly was just as important as getting responding units to the specified address in the shortest amount of time possible.
Johnson County wasn’t the only center using pre-alerts where someone was wondering if there was a better way. Faudere met Jeff Hutchens with Guilford County Emergency Services (North Carolina, USA) and found out that he was having the same questions. They pooled their resources and data together to create a research poster of their question and their findings and then later published a paper in AEDR. They looked at a total of nearly 140,000 calls and found that just over 50% of them were downgraded from their original dispatch level and 5% were canceled altogether. Additionally, in 29% of the calls, at least one response unit was canceled. In their words, “This indicates a waste of valuable resources and an implied increase in cost and risk.”1 That’s a pretty strong argument for waiting for proper dispatch assessment before sending a response out. In fact, Hutchens used the results of the study to make changes to the pre-alert policy at Guilford County Emergency Services. He turned data into action.
Research gets a bad rap, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating or boring. Think of it as a buffet where you can go to find things you’re interested in. You may only want a slice or even just a bite of cheesecake rather than committing to eating the whole thing. As you get more comfortable reading and comprehending research, you can read more and more of it. Research comes in many forms—research papers, posters, and briefs, to name a few—and the best research goes through a peer review process.
Check out AEDRjournal.org for more information—click on the “Learn” tab for more tips and tricks or dive right into the papers, posters, and briefs if you’re ready. If you have a specific question, email the experts at ARCresearchteam@emergencydispatch.org. Chris Olola, Greg Scott, and Matt Hirschi will be glad to hear from you and will probably ask you questions of their own.
(You may have noticed that all of the information in the article is right here in the conclusion. If you want to read more about a specific point, you can go back and read just that section. That’s how abstract conclusions should work!)
1 Faudere D, Hutchens J, Olola C, Scott G, Broadbent M, Gardett I. “Implications of Pre-Alerts for Medical Emergency Calls.” Annals of Emergency Response. 2018; Dec. 4. https://aedrjournal.org/implications-of-pre-alerts-for-medical-emergency-calls-2/ (accessed July 16, 2020).
Rebecca Barrus is Principal Podcaster for the Journal and Annals of Emergency Dispatch and Response (AEDR). She is also a writer and editor, with her work appearing in the Journal and several other Academy publications. Becca holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. She worked as a ghostwriter for two years where she wrote four novels and edited several more. Becca’s hobbies include baking and watching baking shows with the intensity of an avid sports fan.