A pilot program in Prince George’s County, Maryland has trained firefighters responding to 911 calls from patients who don’t meet the criteria for true emergent care. In one case cited in a Washington Post article, responders checked on a woman who was in the habit of calling 911 several times a week, with an unnecessary (and costly) trip to the emergency room following most often before the program launched. On that day, though, she had her blood pressure checked, got advice on foods to avoid to keep her blood sugar down, and received help in setting up a visit with her primary care physician—all without leaving her home. When the visit was done, the firefighters hopped back into their SUV and headed off to another patient’s home. Similar programs in other parts of the country are already saving taxpayers, patients, and insurers money; in the Fort Worth, TX area, supplementing traditional 911 response with triage nurses and preventive care has cut $11.5 million overall in the past 4 years. According to the Post, at least 230 emergency response systems across the country are trying out “mobile integrated health” or “community paramedicine.” This raises an interesting possibility for urgent care: While the logistics might be challenging at first, why couldn’t an urgent care center supply the clinical support for nonemergent 911 calls? Operators with a pioneering spirit might want to propose just such an arrangement, to the benefit of their community (in the way of patient care, cost cutting, and conservation of emergency resources) and their own bottom line (from fees or cost-saving incentives).
Could Urgent Care Come to the Rescue When Patients Dial 911?