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Ga. city council partners with telehealth service for non-acute EMS calls

Sandy Springs officials joined RiteSite Health in a move to free EMS units for emergency 911 calls


RiteSite Health/Facebook

By Skyler Heath
Marietta Daily Journal

SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. — Sandy Springs residents who call 911 for medical help will soon have an alternative to unnecessary emergency room visits.

At its June 18 meeting, Sandy Springs City Council approved a partnership with RightSite Health Physicians to provide on-scene telehealth services to patients who call 911 for non-acute medical emergencies.

The partnership comes after Section Chief Patrick Flahtery said the fire department has seen a steady increase in 911 activation for non-life-threatening medical emergencies.

“30% of the calls that we run every week for EMS are classified as non-life threatening, non-acute calls... those patients, generally, do not require an ER visit,” he said.

Flahtery told the city council that every 911 call will be treated the same — however, if EMS personnel arrive on the scene and determine the patient’s conditions are non-emergent, first responders will be able to offer patients two treatment options: proceeding to the emergency room or connecting them with RightSite ER physicians through a telehealth visit.

Lessons learned from implementation of a telestroke program

If the patient chooses the telehealth consultation, EMS will connect them with a board-certified physician, using any device — a tablet, iPad or iPhone — with a camera and internet connection.

RightSite Health will provide a wide array of medical services, including scheduling doctor’s appointments, refilling medications and arranging alternative transport to urgent care clinics and medical offices.

The ultimate goal, Flahtery said, is to prevent unnecessary trips to the emergency room, and free up city EMS resources for higher acuity 911 calls.

“Under current state law, if you get on an ambulance, you can only go to an emergency room,” Flahtery said, adding an average ambulance bill costs upwards of $2,000, plus associated ER fees. “This is a significant financial burden compared to most insurance companies (that) don’t even have a copay for a telehealth visit.”

Engaging payers, the medical director, administrators and field providers was key to MedStar’s successful telehealth implementation

Medical conditions that may be eligible for the program include dehydration, cold and flu symptoms, anxiety symptoms, palpitations and malaise, to name a few.

The partnership will be at no cost to the city. Patients will be billed through private insurance like any traditional telehealth visit.

“If (patients) do not have insurance or Medicare, then there is no cost for the services provided,” he said. “They will not be refused if they do not have means of payment.”

“This sounds like a great addition,” Councilmember John Paulson said.

The city is currently in the process of scheduling training with RightSite Health. The new service will be available for residents once training is complete, a Sandy Springs spokesperson said.

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