Chronic illnesses and the complications around them are one reason why local ambulance services stay so busy throughout the year. They're routinely called out to homes across Polk County for simple checkups on patients with a variety of ailments that really don't need emergency attention.
That's why Redmond EMS is starting up two new programs that are meant to decrease the number of trips that ambulances have to make, and help those with chronic issues get the attention they need.
Marty Robinson, who heads up the ambulance service for Redmond Regional Medical Center and also serves as a deputy coroner in Polk County, said that the idea behind Mobile Integrated Health is to act as a continuum of care for those who have been treated at Redmond Regional Medical Center.
"The idea behind this is that for people who are at high risk of having to be readmitted to the hospital, we'll bridge that gap to ensure that they're getting better after their stay in the hospital during a four week program.," Robinson said. "We'll be checking on them routinely either by phone call or visit that they are doing all the things they need to for hospital after care, like having and taking their medicine and following doctor's instructions to help keep them on track."
The mobile integrated health program is being determined on a case-by-case basis according to Robinson at Redmond Regional Medical Center for those who might need the extra treatment via an internal process, and part of the hospital's continuum of care program.
A second program is meant to target patients who have a high number of calls for medical help for chronic problems is what Redmond EMS is dubbing their Community Medicine program.
It'll work much in the same way as the mobile integrated health program, but Robinson said the idea is to work with local health care providers to figure out what patients need more attention for checkup purposes, and ensure all the doctor's orders are being followed.
"The idea is to bring health care to people," Robinson said. "This has evolved in EMS over the years.... EMS has moved into more of the health care system than into the emergency services like it was."
Back in the 1990s, EMS was mainly for emergency purposes but over the years as health care costs have increased and patients have become more reliant on emergency personnel to help with a variety of problems, the mission has fundamentally changed.
Robinson said the idea is that if helping keep up with patients who routinely call for help with chronic issues and utilize staff who otherwise don't get involved as much in field work, it'll be better for everyone. EMS workers will spend less time acting as health care providers and make it easier to free up time to treat patients with immediate, life threatening problems.
That's not to discourage people from calling 911 if they fear for their life. Robinson stressed that it's still important for people to call for immediate assistance should they be experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, for instance. That, he points out, still requires a trip to the hospital.
But with the new program, Robinson said that EMS officials can now keep up with patients and ensure they're getting help without always having to make trips just by calling weekly and having checkups on the phone, or sending someone out if needed. They'll even consult with primary physicians too.
"These are necessary programs that adds value for everyone," he said. "It's not going to change the fact that we're going to take you to the hospital if you go. It's just a way to continue their care and keep patients healthy."