Time to handle 911 call demands with Paramedics

When discussing this new and growing field of pre-hospital care, there seems to be two unique paths that services are following. The first is the hospital-owned or contracted service, where community providers seek ways to decrease readmission rates for CHF, COPD, Pneumonia, Sepsis, MI and other chronic illnesses.

When a patient discharged with one of these targeted conditions is readmitted within a 30 day window, “hospitals face penalties of up to 3 percent of Medicare payments in 2018” (Gluck, 2017, para. 10). That is a lot of money. Consider, “Lee Health, Southwest Florida’s largest hospital operator, which is expected to lose $3.4 million in payments” (Gluck, 2017, para. 2). This model represents the if, or, and type of service, meaning if we can do it for less and there are providers willing to do this type of medicine, then we can save the expensive penalties from CMC.

The other model of community paramedicine is 911 abuse reduction. For years EMS has conditioned the public to call 911 for any emergency. But today, what we consider an emergency is far from the public’s perception of an emergency. “EMS has experienced a 37% increase in 911 calls since 2008.” (White, 2016, para. 6) Yet have we increased staffing proportionally to meet the demand? Afraid not since “only 50% of EMS services in 2008 were fully staffed, and more than 63% had a volunteer component as part of their staffing level” (“Critical Staffing Shortages,” 2015, para. 2).

The article references increasing wages to help compensate for the decrease in trained providers by attracting more professionals to the field. With the CMC limiting payments and the major insurance companies following suit, doubtful this will be an option in the near future.

To reduce calls and increase levels of service, we can try to reeducate the public to what is a true emergency, but that is a long and slow process. For example, Philadelphia has started the trend and placed several billboards up around neighborhoods that contribute an ordinarily high amount of non-emergent 911 calls. Will this work? Time will tell but I would believe not enough to affect the volume of calls.

What about enlisting Community Paramedics in these situations? I believe this is a viable solution with nurses triaging the low acuity calls in the 911 center. Dispatching Community Paramedics armed with not only the usual equipment, but also the knowledge base to connect these patients with primary care physicians, social workers, and the programs that are available to them. This will help people receive the long-term care they deserve.

Scott F. McConnell is Vice President of EMS Education for OnCourse Learning and one of the Founders of Distance CME. Since its inception in 2010, more than 10,000 learners worldwide have relied on Distance CME to recertify their credentials. Scott is a true believer in sharing not only his perspectives and experiences but also those of other providers in educational settings.

* Critical Staffing Shortages (2015)
* Gluck, F. (2017, February 7th, 2017). Lee Health will lose $3.4 million in Medicare payments because of readmission rates. USA Today
* White, D. (2016, February 16th, 2016). Community paramedic? program intended to reduce 911 calls. Manatee Technical College

Scott McConnell

Scott McConnell, RN, CEN, PHRN, NRP, is the co-founder of Distance CME by OnCourse Learning and an EMS instructor.