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Interested in community paramedicine programs? Here are 3 things to consider

Whether you’re looking to start or maintain a community paramedicine program, don’t overlook these areas that can help make a difference


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Interested in community paramedicine programs? Here are 3 things to consider

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Sponsored by ImageTrend

By Yoona Ha, EMS1 BrandFocus Staff

It’s hardly news that emergency room visits are often seen as one of the culprits of the problem of rising healthcare costs in the U.S. In fact, critics have pointed fingers at the emergency departments for several decades now.

One way to tackle the problem of costly insurance payouts caused by emergency room visits that could have been better handled at a primary care doctor’s office or an urgent care clinic is through community paramedicine programs. (image/iStock)
One way to tackle the problem of costly insurance payouts caused by emergency room visits that could have been better handled at a primary care doctor’s office or an urgent care clinic is through community paramedicine programs. (image/iStock)

In an effort to find ways to bring the costs of healthcare down, several states have advocated for reducing the number of emergency room visits for non-urgent care. Some have gone even further in their efforts to lower the costs of Medicaid expenditures by proposing to reimburse emergency room visits based on the urgency of the discharge diagnosis.

One way to tackle the problem of costly insurance payouts caused by emergency room visits that could have been better handled at a primary care doctor’s office or an urgent care clinic is through community paramedicine programs (also known as mobile integrated healthcare clinics or CP programs). These emerging models of patient care give EMS staff more opportunities to assist underserved community members through expanded roles that focus more on offering primary healthcare and preventative care services to patients.

Not surprisingly, many EMS providers have launched community paramedicine programs through partnership and collaboration with other healthcare resources. What makes these programs unique is that they’re designed to address some of the biggest problems local delivery systems face, such as overburdened emergency departments, fragmented urgent care networks and insufficient primary and chronic care resources.

Many agencies across the country have already demonstrated the impact of community paramedicine-centric approaches to care. Some of the benefits we’ve seen include:

  • More appropriate use of emergency care systems (providers would get non-medically emergent patients to non-ED environments instead).
  • Increased access for underserved populations who may not have had solutions to common primary care problems.
  • More opportunities for EMS staff to expand their skills and increase their exposure to low-call-volume settings to better develop patient assessment skills.

Sounds like a great idea, right? Make sure you consider you consider these three tips when you’re looking to launch or reassess the needs of your CP program:

1. Evaluate and determine your community’s healthcare needs first

With more than 30 years of experience in the emergency medical field, Dave Zaiman, Business Development Manager of ImageTrend, said one of the first things agencies have to do is to conduct a needs assessment.

Putting a program together can be daunting, especially when you’re not sure of the specific needs of your community. What the most successful programs have in common is that they are uniquely designed to meet one or more of the healthcare needs essential to that community.

As a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests, each CP program should “define its system-specific health status benchmarks and performance indicators to use a variety of community health and public health interventions to improve the community’s health status.”

One way some agencies have captured the data they need to properly conduct a thorough community needs assessment is by using technological platforms like ImageTrend’s Elite Community Health.

“The Impact Score feature uses an exclusive algorithm that allows you to identify and assess potential and current high EMS utilizers in your community who could benefit from community paramedicine programs,” said Zaiman.

This data-driven solution uses information that you collect from patients and allows you to analyze the data to assess the programs you have implemented in your community.

2. Document your program’s impact

Zaiman also recommends that agencies looking to grow their community paramedicine programs need to have the right documentation tools.

“Are you capturing all of the information you need to prove the effectiveness of your program?” said Zaiman, who leads the mobile healthcare initiatives at ImageTrend. “I actually work backwards with EMS staff to identify their end goals for the program first, and then make sure that they’re achieving those goals.”

The reality is that different agencies have varying standards and metrics for success, varying modes of collecting data and differing expectations for the program’s return on investment. So getting clear on what’s expected and required to run an effective program is important. But how do you capture the data you need to demonstrate your program’s efficacy?

“Prehospital care is one of the largest untapped sources of healthcare data that is just starting to be looked at around the country,” said Zaiman. “Individual ambulance services may be looking at their 911 data, but it should also be evaluated for overall improvement of the patient’s healthcare picture, including community paramedicine needs.”

Elite Community Health allows providers to document and track all of their patient data to help gauge their impact in the community. The Elite Community Health solution allows users to configure the software and add questions for the data that would need to be collected, as well as pull reports on the patients they have interacted with and patients that didn’t involve treatment or transport.

3. Demonstrate your program’s success to maintain funding

One of the biggest challenges programs face is funding, Zaiman said. But the good news for agencies is that there are many sources for both start-up and long-term funding available for mobile integrated healthcare programs.

Community paramedicine software programs can help providers manage patient-centric documentation that goes beyond an incident and follows the patient’s treatment journey. Platforms like Elite Community Health can help EMS providers document all patient encounters and monitor and analyze progress of your program, such as reduced ED visits and other metrics that are important to your community.

“Having the data to show that the program is actually working is a way to prove your worth to continue that funding,” said Zaiman.

What community paramedicine efforts truly accomplish is saving healthcare costs for both community members and local healthcare organizations. Tools like ImageTrend’s Elite Community Health can help EMS providers gather needed data while focusing on improving the health of community members.

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