The weight of the pandemic has tested the foundation of healthcare and community paramedicine. It has been a tragic year; however, through COVID 19, we can learn valuable lessons.
Community paramedicine is a vital bridge in the war on COVID-19. While we have made progress in expanding the community paramedic effort, there is still work to do. In communities where community paramedicine has been implemented, it has been a smashing success. Nevertheless, how do we get all communities, counties, EMS services, and health insurance providers to get on board to make this initiative a natural succession of healthcare.
Is COVID the shot in the arm Community paramedicine needs? In this article, we explore the patient care dilemmas caused by the pandemic. As you will see, community paramedicine bridges a significant gap in our current healthcare model.
How Has COVID Changed Healthcare?
The pandemic has gone beyond cities, states, and countries. This pandemic has tested the entire world. During this test, we have seen our strengths, and we have felt our weaknesses.
Healthcare is leading the charge to stop this pandemic. However, we face new challenges. If communities come together, we can slow the spread of COVID 19 and save lives.
Let us discuss three areas of healthcare that are struggling:
- Patient triage
- Primary care clinics
- Low contact patient care
Let us explore these in more depth.
Patient Triage During COVID 19
The coronavirus has been a giant magnifying glass. Issues we thought were insignificant have proved devastating. One such area is patient triage.
Patient triage involves getting the right patients to the right places. Some patients need an intensive care unit. Others should not leave their homes. Usually, triaging a patient is straightforward. However, COVID turned patient triage upside down.
For example, say someone tests positive for COVID 19; however, their symptoms are mild. This patient is a good candidate for out-of-hospital treatment.
However, there is a problem.
The patient is worried about their diagnosis. They do not know what to do. COVID is a new and mysterious disease. So, they go to the ER, “just to get checked out.”
While it is essential for patients to seek care when they are concerned, these concerns do not always warrant an emergency room visit.
This confusion and anxiety among patients lead us to our triage dilemma.
Here is how it happens.
Patients who do not need hospital treatment will call 911 or check themselves in at the emergency department, creating a strain on the hospital. It is not the patient’s fault. They did not know where to turn. Many of their primary care clinics are shut down or discouraging routine exams.
Alternatively, some patients who should call 911 decide against it. These patients may fear catching the virus or being a strain on an already busy system. As a result, their conditions worsen. Now, when these patients finally seek care, physicians are treating an emergency.
What is the remedy? Community paramedicine provides a cure.
How Community Paramedicine Can Help with Patient Triage
Community paramedicine helps solve the patient triage dilemma. Let us go over some of the ways community paramedicine accomplishes this task.
Here are a few ways community paramedicine can help:
- Community paramedics can reassure patients
- Community paramedics can coordinate destinations with a physician
- Community paramedics provide in-home treatment
Let us go over these in more detail.
Community Paramedics can Reassure a Patient
Many patients are unsure if they should go to the hospital. As a result, many will end up going to the emergency room to be on the safe side.
While this is still a problem during regular times, it creates even more exacerbating circumstances during a pandemic.
Thankfully, community paramedic programs are here to help.
A community paramedic can perform many of the same patient checks as an emergency room. Paramedics can take vitals, complete a physical assessment, and even perform more advanced diagnostics, like recording blood lab values.
Community paramedics can successfully reassure a patient, preventing unnecessary ER visits. This out-of-hospital care saves time, saves money, and can even save lives.
Community Paramedics can Coordinate Patient Destination
Some patients do not need to go to the hospital. However, they might need a minor procedure at urgent care or a consult with a mental health professional.
Community paramedics can get the patients in touch with these services. In the past, these patients would go to the emergency room, wasting time and valuable resources.
Now, community paramedicine streamlines patient triage. During COVID 19, this has been an enormous benefit.
Saving hospital beds for the neediest patients is essential. The triage provided by community paramedicine limits contact and improves patient outcomes.
Paramedics can coordinate directly with a patient’s physician, allowing them to have confidence that they are getting the care they need.
Community Paramedics Can Provide At-Home Treatment
Many chronic medical patients need to have a slight adjustment in their daily care. Mobile integrated healthcare allows physicians to communicate directly with staff in the field. In this way, patients no longer need to be brought to the physician.
With modern technology, we can bring physicians to them.
Forward-thinking technology like Julota allows community paramedics access to all relevant health information. Communication is essential when caring for a patient.
Now, let us discuss the toll this pandemic has taken on primary care.
COVID has Devastated Primary Care
Many years ago, physicians visited their patients’ homes. However, this soon became impractical. Now, people typically visit their primary care physicians at a clinic.
Visiting a clinic does not present issues during everyday life; however, COVID 19 has not been typical.
Many primary care clinics have shut down. In other cases, they have remained open, but patients have stayed away and missed appointments.
Patients go untreated. Chronic conditions become worse, and more patients flood the hospital.
When people are not seeing their primary care physicians, sparks become forest fires, and manageable medical conditions become emergencies.
Is there a remedy? We think so.
How Community Paramedicine is Supplementing Primary Care Clinics
In the 1930s, physician house calls represented nearly 40 percent of physician-patient encounters; now, that number has dwindled to almost nothing.
However, with a simple video chat, physicians can now assess their patients, make recommendations, and even prescribe medications. Technology has brought physicians back to patients’ homes.
With the help of community paramedics, physicians can provide a full spectrum of care to their patients, just as they would receive if they came into a clinic.
COVID Has Created a Need for Contact-free Care
Healthcare often requires close contact. However, CDC guidelines recommend using distance to stop the spread of COVID 19. How do we solve this dilemma?
Unfortunately, this predicament results from the first two problems we discussed: patient triage and primary care. When patients are unnecessarily flooding the hospitals, more diseases will spread. And the cycle continues.
While this puzzle feels a little hopeless, there are ways to limit contact and fight back.
In the next section, we will cover some of the programs and applications available to fight the war on COVID 19, allowing our planet to get back to normal.
How Community Paramedicine Helps Limit Contact During COVID
Hospitals present a high risk for the transmission of disease. During COVID, we have seen the need to quarantine those with the disease.
While quarantine is effective, COVID has presented new problems. Many people carrying the virus can have no symptoms. Even with required quarantine for those affected, there is still potential for inadvertent transmission.
Community paramedicine provides a massive advantage in low-contact patient care. Community paramedics can go directly to a patient’s home in full-body substance isolation. The medics can provide direct evaluation and care without any unneeded person-to-person contact.
This ability to provide in-home care has been an enormous benefit for the COVID vaccination effort. Community paramedics can administer the COVID vaccine to people in their own homes. Not only do the patients receive the vaccine, but they also avoid potential exposure.
While all this may sound great, you might be surprised to know that community paramedic initiatives are not well funded. We discuss this further in the sections below.
Does Insurance Pay for Community Paramedic Care?
Unfortunately, community paramedicine is not well funded. Historically, insurers have only paid for ambulances to transport the patient to the hospital. This model incentivizes EMS to transport all patients even if they do not need an ED visit.
Forty years ago, ambulance staff was less equipped to provide definitive in-home patient care.
However, with modern technology and advances in education, community paramedic programs can provide a wide array of treatments. These efforts deserve to be recognized and compensated by health insurance companies.
It is time to update our national Medicare standards to cover these vitally essential services provided by community paramedics.
Connection is Key for Community Paramedicine
When a provider is with a patient, having accurate information about their patient provides an incredible advantage.
Julota’s software for EMS allows providers to see the complete picture when dealing with a patient. Having this added information makes proper triage and treatment exponentially more effective.
Julota allows physicians, paramedics, and mental health workers to have access to the same information. When care providers can see the same things, everybody can work together to make an informed decision.
Imagine patient information is a map. If everyone is reading different maps, then no one knows where to go. This confusion leads to wasted time and wasted money.
Julota lets everyone read the same map. With this ability, healthcare providers can form a clear path to better patient care.
COVID has shown us that community paramedicine should be here to stay and is an incredible asset in healthcare.