7 Essential Steps to Starting a Community Paramedic Program

Starting a community paramedic program doesn’t need to stress you out. After reading this guide, you’ll feel less confusion about taking the leap into mobile integrated healthcare-community paramedicine.

To start a mobile integrated healthcare community paramedic program, you need to assess your community needs, research feasibility and coordinate with your state EMS office. 

The Paramedic Foundation has a handbook for starting a community paramedic program. You can download the handbook for your review. We recommend you look it over. However, it is about fifty pages long. So, you can use this article to get started. 

How Do I Start a Community Paramedic Program? 

Let’s start with seven steps to creating a community paramedic program. Consider this guide a checklist to get you started. 

7 Steps to initiate a community paramedic program in your area: 

  1. Perform a needs assessment 
  2. Contact community partners and primary care physicians  
  3. Discuss feasibility with EMS staff
  4. Contact the state EMS office
  5. Address educational needs 
  6. Consider staffing and equipment needs 
  7. Secure funding for your MIH-CP program

There are several ways to approach a community paramedic program: the top-down approach and the bottom-up. The state EMS office encourages and initiates CP programs in the top-down model. However, in the bottom-up approach, or the grassroots model, individual EMS agencies start the program. The bottom-up approach is usually the structure in which most programs are formed.

This article provides steps for the grassroots approach. Both the bottom-up and top-down approach leads to positive change in mobile integrated healthcare.

1. Begin a Community Paramedic Program with a Needs Assessment 

There is no reason to begin a community paramedic program if your city doesn’t need or want it. So, before you begin the heavy lifting of starting a community paramedic program, you should perform a needs assessment. A needs assessment to determine if your community needs a community paramedic program could give you the vital information you need to bring up with decision makers in your community.

Here are several questions to consider during a needs assessment: 

  1. Does your county have patients who don’t have access to primary care? 
  2. Is there an untreated drug problem that could use a community paramedic program? 
  3. Does your EMS system have a high number of super-utilizers or frequent flyers? 
  4. Have your ERs been overcrowded? Are there other clinics for patients to find care? 

Before you reach out to partners, it’s vital to know the need your community paramedic program will fill. By performing a needs assessment, you’ll have a convincing answer when people ask – how does this program help us? 

2. Contact Community Partners for Your Community Paramedic Program

You need partners to buy into the idea to start a successful community paramedic program. The very nature of a community paramedic program requires strong partnership. A community partner is somebody that can champion a community paramedic program with you to decision makers in your local government.

Here are several people you’ll need onboard: 

  • Primary care physicians and nurses’ association. Community paramedicine is often based in primary care. So, you’ll need to contact primary care physicians and nurses to determine if they’re on board with the idea. 
  • Medical direction. Along with primary care physicians, you’ll need to contact your EMS medical director. Depending on the size of your program, you may need a second medical director involved in your community paramedic program. Medical directors will keep tabs on paramedic skills and help develop protocols. 
  • Community mental health leadersCommunity paramedics frequently assist mental health care. Contact local leaders to see if they would be interested in partnering with your program. 

If you have community partners ready to buy in, it’s time to bring the idea to your staff. 

3. Discuss Community Paramedicine with Employees and Managers 

Don’t forget to evaluate the internal motivations of your staff. In many cases, paramedics and EMTs will be excited to try something new and expand their skills and knowledge. However, if your team is already overworked, they may be less enthusiastic about starting a new program. 

Also, if you’re a rural EMS system, you may need to figure the possibility that EMTs will be your primary employees. With some training, EMTs can perform the job of a community paramedic. EMTs in this role are often known as primary care technicians

If you have the need, the partners, and your staff is on board, it’s time to bring your proposal to your state EMS department.

4. Contact Your State EMS Department 

One of the significant hurdles for paramedic programs is their state scope and classifications. Some states have clear guidelines asserting how community paramedic programs should operate. 

In time, most states will streamline the ability to initiate a mobile integrated health program. 

For now, here are some critical questions to discuss with your state: 

  • Licensing requirements. Does your state require you to apply for any new licensure? Or can you begin a community paramedic program with your current ambulance license? 
  • Educational requirements. If your state requires paramedics to hold community paramedic certification, you may need to train personnel. Some states have no guidelines for further community paramedic certification. Others are more particular. 
  • Path forward. Ask your state EMS department: what do I need to do to get a community paramedic program up and running? The state is a good starting point, as it helps ensure you have your legal bases covered. 

Alright, now let’s discuss the possibility that you’ll need to educate your staff. 

5. Assess Community Paramedic Educational Needs

Before you jump too far ahead with education, be sure to ask your local partners for their expectations. Why is this so important? 

Well, if a primary care physician was expecting your community paramedics to draw blood and perform wound care, you’ll want to ensure your staff can meet these needs.

When discussing the scope of care, communication with your partners is essential. Some community paramedics have run into trouble because physicians ordered skills that the paramedics were untrained to perform. 

After discussing expectations with your community partners, it’s time to consider legal requirements. As stated in the last section, some states require paramedics to receive certification, and others do not. Some states allow their paramedics to perform with their current scope of practice, reducing the need for retraining. However, this could change in the future.

If you need to provide extensive training to paramedics and EMTs, here are several places to start: 

  • Community colleges. See if local colleges might offer community paramedic training programs. 
  • EMS schools. Local paramedic schools may have the capacity to train paramedics, especially if the demand is there. 
  • Training EMTs. If you don’t have enough paramedics, you can still institute a training program with EMTs as the provider. 

Let’s address staffing and equipment needs. 

6. Assess Your Staffing and Equipment Needs 

You may already have everything you need to start a community paramedic program. This section will provide some ideas to increase staffing. Also, we’ll give a brief overview of equipment needs for a community paramedic program. 

Here are several ideas to produce staffing: 

  • Start small. If you don’t have the staff for a full-time program, you may be able to start with one day a week. Starting small allows you to see how things go before taking on many patients. Also, it gives your paramedics a chance to see if they enjoy the work. 
  • Colleges. You’re more likely to draw students to your company if you introduce your community paramedic provider course at local colleges. 

Alright, now let’s talk about some equipment to start a community paramedic program: 

  • Vehicle. You can use a regular ambulance. However, if you’re making house calls, you may want to use a vehicle that doesn’t attract much attention (or worry the neighbors). Also, if you’re instituting a non-transport program, there’s less need for a full ambulance. 
  • Assessment tools. Community paramedics use more than the typical supplies on the ambulance. Weight scales, measuring tapes for height, and otoscopes are a few things you may need. However, you might need larger equipment, like a centrifuge and a small refrigerator for storing blood draws. 
  • Physician interface equipment. You may need a laptop with a cellular Wi-Fi connection for video chats with the physician. Also, tools that transmit information like digital stethoscopes may be helpful. 

It’s essential to make sure you have the equipment for your paramedics. This will help them feel secure and confident when they assess a patient. 

7. Secure Stable Funding for Your Community Paramedic Program 

Securing a stable source of funding can seem like a headache. However, with some creativity, it may be easier than you think. For a complete discussion on procuring funding for your EMS program, see this article on seven ways to fund your community paramedic program. 

Here are some ideas to get started: 

  1. Look into insurance. Research your area’s reimbursement laws for community paramedics. Some areas have recognized the work of community paramedics and allowed them to be paid for their services. Other regions still require ambulances to transport them to the ER. 
  2. Grants. Many community paramedic programs have lifted themselves from the ground with a grant. Funding from a grant will give you time to show off your program’s worth to the community. 
  3. Community partners. Hospitals and police departments may offer funds when they realize community paramedics are also valuable to them. Also, other organizations like churches and rehab facilities may opt to get on board when they see the benefit to their community.

The funding will follow if you can create value with your community paramedic program. 

Communication while Building a Community Paramedic Program

Communication is the beating heart of a strong organization. Julota offers a documentation platform that brings different aspects of mobile integrated health together. With Julota, you can safely share vital patient information with other community providers. 

Using Julota allows integration with existing software systems – everyone involved in patient care is in the loop. If your department is looking for intelligent, no-headache documentation, contact Julota for a hassle-free demonstration.