How a Community Paramedics Program Helps Patients Beyond Hospital Walls
More Americans are visiting the emergency department (ED) than ever before – a total of 145.7 million people in 2016 alone. That’s almost double the number of people who visited EDs a decade ago, despite an overall decline in the number of ED locations. About half of all hospital inpatient admissions originate in the ED, particularly for uninsured and publicly insured patients.
But many of those emergency visits were avoidable. “So many patients end up in the ED because of simple — but frightening — mistakes, like mixing up medications or missing timely treatment for an infection,” said Pat Coyne, vice president, ambulance services, at North Memorial Health in Robbinsdale, Minnesota.
Health care providers at North Memorial saw a major opportunity to address a need for preventative care in their community. In 2012, the health system launched an innovative community paramedic program to prevent hospitalizations and expensive ED visits.
The program utilizes a staff of emergency-trained paramedics who are scheduled to take a break from ambulance work to make community care visits. Scheduled visits to the homes of frail and elderly patients, or those with chronic conditions like diabetes, help reduce avoidable ED visits and hospitalizations. A typical patient in the program is someone who frequently receives hospital care, but may not have anyone to provide help after returning home.
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The program has proven to be a success for patients. Patients who received a community paramedic visit after an initial ED or inpatient admission showed a 50 percent reduction in return hospital visits three months after the initial intervention. Hospital care team members have also noticed a reduction in calls for ambulances and hospital readmissions. Patients in the program are seeing their primary care providers more reliably and are managing their health more effectively.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of the program’s success — and a true testament to the strength and impact the community paramedics are making in the community — has been the steady flow of thank you letters North Memorial receives from its patients.