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Referring drug addicts to social services is an EMS win

Rather than adding more resources to combat substance abuse calls, linking patients to social services can help reduce EMS call volume


As part of the nation’s health care safety net, EMS crews respond to a disproportionate number of both emergency and non-emergent calls where transport to an emergency department is the least effective form of care.

Simultaneously, it can be one of the most expensive.

If the initial medical treatment isn’t followed up with a strong connection to a variety of social services, that ED trip becomes a revolving door, frustrating patients and emergency care providers alike.

In many cases, the services that these patients need exist; the challenge is to identify and connect both the patient and the service. A Baltimore EMS program aims to do just that by training medics to better engage with substance abuse callers and help link them up to community resources that will help them on a path to recovery.

In a busy 911 system, it may feel like a time-wasting effort to counsel and refer a patient with a drug addiction to social services. But if the patient is then able to receive the appropriate care and is taken out of the system, it’s a win for everyone.

We are seeing rising EMS call volume in many parts of the country. The instinctive response is to add more staffing and more units. But that model is failing. It’s often too expensive, too unwieldy, and frankly very inefficient. Residents are less likely to fund services through taxes, and reimbursement rates from insurers continue to shrink. 

It’s the classic theme of “work smarter, not harder.” Baltimore is a very busy EMS system, and its leaders are trying to improve its effectiveness without breaking the bank.

This project represents a small, but significant step in matching the right patient to the right serve, right at the point of entry. How cool is that?

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