Prehospital Communication: Pre-Alerting and Ambulance Handovers
Table of Contents
Ambulance crews use structured tools to communicate with receiving medical staff both as part of the formal clinical handover of a patient and also as a pre-alert message delivered in advance of their arrival. Understanding the format and content of these tools will aid in the accurate communication of prehospital care rendered and hopefully minimise clinical errors (e.g. duplicate administration of medications already given outside the department).
Ambulance Pre-Alerting of Patients
Depending on the patient’s presentation or vital signs an ambulance crew may pre-alert the receiving Emergency Department in order to prepare for the patient’s arrival. The structure of this message (normally relayed via radio or phone) for trauma patients in the United Kingdom is recommended to include (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, 2016):
Age and sex of the injured person
Time of incident
Mechanism of injury
Signs, including vital signs, and Glasgow Coma Scale
Treatment so far
Estimated time of arrival
Ambulance call sign
This information is structured into an ATMISTER message by several Ambulance Service Trusts (South, 2018) as outlined above.
“30-year-old male, at 1300hrs had a rollover road traffic collision, suspected pelvic fracture, Respiration Rate: 20, Heart Rate: 120, Blood Pressure: 110/70, SpO2: 95%, Temperature 37, GCS 15, Pelvic binder applied, immobilised on an orthopaedic stretcher and given 10mg Morphine IV, ETA 10 minutes, Call Sign 422”
In Ireland, the pre-alert message format that is recommended is the acronym ASHICE (Prehospital Emergency Care Council, 2019). This format is used for both medical and trauma patients alike:
Depending on the local ambulance service procedure, this message could be relayed via an Ambulance Service Dispatcher or the clinician with the patient directly to the receiving hospital. Another variation on this format is that only abnormal vital signs are conveyed as part of this message as it minimizes unnecessary chatter.
“30-year-old male, had a rollover road traffic collision, suspected pelvic fracture, Respiration Rate: 20, Heart Rate: 120, Blood Pressure: 110/70, SP02: 95%, Temperature 37, GCS 15, Serious Not Life-Threatening Clinical Status, ETA 10 minutes”
Ambulance Handover of Patients
In hospital settings, practitioners will already be familiar with the SBAR communication tool to structure a handover between departments, however, there is often a knowledge gap in handovers that cross different care boundaries and professional backgrounds (Sujan, et al., 2013). As a result of this, the SBAR tool has been adapted into an ISBAR tool (with the Identity of the patient being added) by some prehospital clinicians as a handover structure. However, this has been found to be less specific than IMIST AMBO which is discussed below (Shah, et al., 2016).
The IMIST-AMBO protocol captures other information in addition to that already included in ISBAR:
Identification of patient
Mechanism of injury or medical complaint
Injuries or information related to the complaint
Treatment or trends
Pause for Questions
This format is the recommended structure in Irish prehospital care (Health Service Executive, 2013) and also in some Australian services (e.g. Queensland Ambulance Service, 2016). This protocol has been shown to enable the transfer of large volumes of information during handover in a more structured format, resulting in fewer questions from receiving staff and an overall reduction in handover duration (Iedema, et al., 2012).
“This is John Smith, 30 years old. He was involved in a rollover road traffic collision as a driver, wearing his seatbelt. There was no loss of consciousness and there is a suspected pelvic fracture.”
“Vital signs are within normal ranges except for an elevated heart rate of 120.
“He has had pelvic binder applied, 10mg Morphine IV and has been immobilised in an orthopaedic stretcher.”
Pause for Relevant Questions
“No known allergies”
“Doesn’t take any medications”
“Normally fit and well”
“Airbags deployed, windscreen intact, no intrusion into passenger cab”
Other Considerations for the Handover
Ensure that a defined procedure is in place for the handover to take place, for example before or after the patient is physically moved onto the hospital trolley, as this means that all clinicians are aware of when the sharing of information is set to begin.
Allow Paramedics to convey their full handover before asking questions.
Paramedics are a valuable source of information and often can provide extra details regarding the patient’s presentation, past medical history and social context.
Ambulance Service of New South Wales, n.d. IMIST-AMBO Handover Protocol. [Online] Available at: [LINK]. [Accessed 6 March 2020].
Health Service Executive, 2013. Handover of Ambulance Patients in Emergency Departments. [Online] Available at: [LINK]. [Accessed 6 March 2020].
Iedema, R. et al., 2012. Design and Trial of a new ambulance to emergency department handover protocol: “IMIST-AMBO”. BMJ Quality and Safety, 21(8), pp. 627-623.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, 2016. Major Trauma: Service Delivery NICE Guidance [NG40]. [Online] Available at: [LINK]. [Accessed 1 March 2020].
Prehospital Emergency Care Council, 2019. Field Guide. [Online] Available at: [LINK] [Accessed 2 March 2020].
Queensland Ambulance Service, 2016. Clinical Practice Procedures: Other/Clinical Handover. [Online] Available at: [LINK] [Accessed 6 March 2020].
Shah, Y., Alinier, G. & Pillay, Y., 2016. Clinical Handover between paramedics and Emergency department staff: SBAR and IMIST-AMBO acronyms. International Paramedic Practice, 6(2), pp. 37-44.
South, A., 2018. South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust Clinical Guideline CG05: ATMIST Early and Pre-Alerts.. [Online] Available at: [LINK] [Accessed 1 March 2020].
Sujan, M. A. et al., 2013. Emergency Care Handover (ECHO Study) across care boundaries: the need for joint decision making and consideration of psychosocial history. Emergency Medicine Journal, 32(2), pp. 112-118.