Title

Exploring the physical and mental health challenges associated with emergency service call-taking and dispatching: A review of the literature

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Prehospital and Disaster Medicine

Publisher

Cambridge University Press

School

School of Medical and Health Sciences

RAS ID

30012

Comments

Smith, E. C., Holmes, L., & Burkle, F. M. (2019). Exploring the physical and mental health challenges associated with emergency service call-taking and dispatching: A review of the literature. Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, 34(6), 619-624. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1049023X19004990

Abstract

Introduction: Emergency service (ambulance, police, fire) call-takers and dispatchers are often exposed to duty-related trauma, placing them at increased risk for developing mental health challenges like stress, anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Their unique working environment also puts them at-risk for physical health issues like obesity, headache, backache, and insomnia. Along with the stress associated with being on the receiving end of difficult calls, call-takers and dispatchers also deal with the pressure and demand of following protocol despite dealing with the variability of complex and stressful situations.Methods: A systematic literature review was conducted using the MEDLINE, PubMed, CINAHL, and PsychInfo databases.Results: A total of 25 publications were retrieved by the search strategy. The majority of studies (n = 13; 52%) reported a quantitative methodology, while nine (36%) reported the use of a qualitative research methodology. One study reported a mixed-methods methodology, one reported an evaluability assessment with semi-structured interviews, one reported on a case study, and one was a systematic review with a narrative synthesis.Discussion: Challenges to physical health included: shift-work leading to lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, and obesity; outdated and ergonomically ill-fitted equipment, and physically confining and isolating work spaces leading to physical injuries; inadequate breaks leading to fatigue; and high noise levels and poor lighting being correlated with higher cortisol levels. Challenges to mental health included: being exposed to traumatic calls; working in high-pressure environments with little downtime in between stressful calls; inadequate debriefing after stressful calls; inappropriate training for mental-health-related calls; and being exposed to verbally aggressive callers. Lack of support from leadership was an additional source of stress.Conclusion: Emergency service call-takers and dispatchers experience both physical and mental health challenges as a result of their work, which appears to be related to a range of both operational and support-based issues. Future research should explore the long-term effects of these physical and mental health challenges. © 2019 World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine.

DOI

10.1017/S1049023X19004990

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