Managing diagnostic formulations in emergency calls with children

Jakob Cromdal, Daniel Persson-Thunqvist, Karin Osvaldsson

Linkoping University, Sweden


A call to a dispatch centre comprises the first step in an emergency response. A crucial concern for the operator is therefore to efficiently collect relevant and accurate information so that response priority can be set. Yet, callers reporting on emergencies may be facing acute circumstances and are typically unfamiliar with the operator’s agenda and other organisational features of the interrogation. Considering the potentially devastating consequences of misunderstandings in emergency calls, the interactional work through which the parties jointly produce an actionable description of the emergency event merits some attention.

In calls that report on personal injury, illness or other medical conditions, callers frequently use various diagnostic formulations as part of their description of the emergency event. Drawing on a collection of some 100 real-life calls to a Swedish 112 SOS-Alarm centre, this study examines how such formulations are delivered and dealt with by the operator in the subsequent interaction. Through in-depth analysis of the sequential organization (cf. Sacks, 1992) of such exchanges, we argue that diagnostic formulations comprise a generally dispreferred format for callers’ reports, and we show how the operators typically direct subsequent talk towards listing, describing or otherwise reporting observable symptoms.

Furthermore, we show that there are some interesting differences in how children’s diagnostic formulations are handled compared to those of adult callers – differences that may reflect operators’ orientation to children callers as potentially less knowledgeable in the field of paramedic diagnostics compared to adult callers. Our analysis also shows that children deliver their diagnostic formulations differently from adults, often resorting to such means as softeners, hesitation markers and other mitigating devices, etc. For this reason, we argue that it would be too simplistic to treat the operators’ differential receipt of diagnostic formulations as a result of their appealing to commonsense conceptions of children as less knowledgeable, experienced or skilled. Rather, we propose that the relationship between “micro” and “macro” may be found in the in situ organisation of participants’ actions and that it may be discovered analytically by attending to the interactional ethno- methods through which they go about producing an institutionally relevant description of an emergency incident.

Along these lines, we argue that if the distinction between “micro” and “macro” is to be entertained at all in discourse and sociological studies, it’s local anchoring within the interactional exchanges – which it traditionally glosses over – must be demonstrated through analysis of the participants' conduct.

Session: Paper session
Language/medical 2
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 12