Healthcare News & Insights

Paramedics could help hospitals reduce readmissions: Here’s how

Hospitals are getting some unlikely partners in the fight to keep readmissions low: paramedics.

134045928Typically, emergency medical technicians are the first line of defense in stabilizing a patient for treatment as they bring the person to the hospital.

Now, many paramedics are going the extra mile, working to cut readmission rates by providing assistance with care coordination.

A recent article in U.S. News and World Report discussed the trend. Over the last three years, almost 300 emergency medical services providers, such as ambulance systems and fire departments, have started practicing what’s known as community paramedicine. Here, paramedics go out into the communities they serve and provide people with non-emergency healthcare services.

Emergency medical personnel make house calls to patients who made regular use of 911 services in the past. They check patients’ vital signs and make sure they have the resources on hand to stay healthy, such as nutritious food.

Paramedics also confirm that patients are taking their medications as prescribed. And in some cases, they’ll provide primary care services, like vaccines and blood draws. Or they’ll take patients to clinics and pharmacies if necessary.

Success of paramedicine

Although many of these programs are in their infancy, they’ve already made a big impact on preventable readmissions and emergency department visits.

One example discussed in the article: The Carmel, IN Fire Department recently started a Mobile Integrated Health Care program where firefighter-paramedics check in on patients regularly.

Before the program, the department had a high rate of repeat emergency department visitors. Sometimes people would call dozens of times a month to be taken to the hospital. Since July 1, 80 of these patients have participated in the department’s paramedicine program, and only two of them have called 911 again for the same health problem.

A similar program in Minnesota cut ED readmissions from 20% to 3%, and a paramedicine initiative in Colorado involving almost 740 patients saved over $300,000 in healthcare costs.

Opportunity to collaborate

While paramedicine programs have been beneficial to the communities they serve, funding them still poses a challenge. Currently, either the first responders’ organization pays out-of-pocket to hire extra staff or existing staff make visits to people between emergency calls. Minnesota is the only state that reimburses paramedicine providers via Medicaid.

Paramedicine programs in other states are currently trying to partner directly with hospitals, which could be an excellent opportunity for your facility and its attempts to lower readmissions – and avoid looming pay cuts from Medicare.

Establishing a direct working relationship with an organization that provides community paramedicine could help your hospital keep patients healthy by giving them greater access to health care in their communities, especially if your surrounding area has limited primary care options.

Plus, it’s a win-win for both organizations. By focusing on patients’ general health, paramedics can cut down on emergency calls and allocate their resources more effectively to serve patients in poor health. And hospitals can reduce emergency department overcrowding while avoiding multiple hospital visits for patients with chronic conditions.

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