Paramedics—not just for emergencies any more
In Colorado’s Eagle County, paramedic Kevin Creek makes house calls to take electrocardiograms, check patient prescriptions, check blood pressure, change dressings, draw blood and make other observations that used to require a doctor’s visit.
He’s one of a select group of paramedics in several states helping to provide primary healthcare by making house calls—an initiative encour- aged by the federal healthcare law to address shortages in primary care and cut down on expensive visits to doctors and emergency rooms. (See related story, Aug. 22, p. 28.)
“We all get into this because of the adrenaline rush,” Creek says of his career as a paramedic. “I’ve done the car accidents. I’ve done the shootings and the stabbings. Instead of taking out the blood and guts, this is a move into preventative care, so people don’t have to call 911.”
Creek and a colleague participating in the pilot project through the Western Eagle County Ambulance District work full time under the supervision of doctors who refer them to patients. The doctors evaluate information provided by the paramedics and decide the next steps of care.
The Community Paramedic Program is free for anyone in Eagle County, which has an uninsured rate of 26%. But it is funded so far by $700,000 in grants from the Colorado health department, two private health organizations and the ambulance district, said district program coordinator Lisa Ward. “We’re the eyes and ears of the primary-care physician in the home,” she said. “It’s out-of-the-box healthcare, and it’s the future.”
Colorado approved the five-year pilot program to determine how much money the state and federal government might save in Medicare and Medicaid spending in the county, which has a population of about 52,000, many of them in rural areas.
Several states are asking paramedics to broaden their duties with primary-care house calls.