Typically, every medical 911 call leads to a trip to the emergency room. Since a sizable number of calls are for non-critical medical needs such as headaches, abdominal pain, and animal bites, patients with these problems can quickly clog up ERs.
Several cities started having nurse practitioners ride with paramedics on non-urgent calls. Since nurse practitioners typically provide care comparable to that of doctors, they can treat the patient in their home. They also call the patient’s primary care doctor to schedule follow-up treatment—something that doesn’t always happen in the ER.
Such programs are win-wins all around. The patient benefits by getting quick treatment in his or her home, and the program frees up beds in the ER for patients who really need them. It is also highly cost-effective to treat a patient at home rather than go to the ER.
Anaheim just created its one-year pilot program this year at a cost of around $500,000. The fire department in this city receives 31,000 calls a year. Eighty-five percent of these calls are for medical assistance, and slightly more than a third of them are deemed non-urgent.
To improve patient care and help avoid filling up ERs, the Anaheim fire department works with the local ambulance company Care Ambulance Service, healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente, and local fire agencies.
Anaheim modeled its program after a similar one being tested in Mesa, which has been operating for several years now. Its program runs three paramedic-nurse practitioner units 24/7. They are funded by a multimillion dollar grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The Mesa program receives great feedback from the patients it serves and saves a great deal of money.
Hopefully, such pairings are the wave of the future and will be adopted by more cities around the country.