FieldMed Blog

4 Ways Paramedicine Benefits From Telehealth Medicine Right Now

Posted on June 4, 2020

BY FieldMed

4 Ways Paramedicine Benefits From Telehealth Medicine Right Now 

Telehealth is rapidly gaining in popularity as the worldwide healthcare landscape is reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With millions sheltering in place during the recent quarantine and many public spaces -- including hospitals and doctor’s offices -- still limiting accessibility, telehealth medicine brings medical care into the home without increasing exposure risks.  

The use of telehealth is almost completely novel to the EMS/paramedic community, who would be the foremost benefactors of the technology.

Let’s explore 4 ways the world of paramedicine can use this technology right now to reduce coronavirus exposure and potential transmission while still delivering medical care. 

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth, also known as telemedicine, is a relatively new technology that’s gaining traction as a means to deliver patient care. 

Through using telecommunications technology -- such as cell phones, tablets, and computers -- medical providers interact with patients to diagnose and treat conditions at a distance. Oftentimes, these interactions happen with a medical professional in their office and the patient in their home. 

As the narrative of modern patient care is being rewritten through the coronavirus pandemic, telehealth is becoming an especially attractive option, as it:

  • Limits physical face-to-face interactions 
  • Allows patients to seek care safely
  • Reduces stress on 9-1-1 services and emergency rooms 

Interrupting COVID-19 Transmission Within The Chain Of Care

Once COVID-19 enters the environment of a patient’s chain of care, the risk of transmission is exponentially increased. 

The risk isn’t simply to providers in the care chain -- it also extends to those they subsequently come in personal contact with. 

If a paramedic team visits a COVID-19 positive patient, transports them via ambulance to an emergency room, and hands the patient to the ER care team, not only are all teams exposed, but potentially every other patient under their care is exposed, as well.

Telehealth interrupts this path of exposure and transmission.  

We now live in a time when a patient can experience a face-to-face appointment with a healthcare provider without actually being physically present. A provider can, via a tablet and an internet connection, see and evaluate a patient to make a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.

Here are 4 ways in which telehealth has immediate impacts on limiting COVID-19 exposure while still allowing medical professionals to provide effective patient care:

1. Emergency Room Self-Service Triage

Keeping the waiting room of an ER clear and clean was nearly an insurmountable task before we entered a pandemic. It became critical to keep ER’s in good, clean order with extremely limited access once coronavirus became prevalent.

Through telehealth mechanisms, patients visiting an ER can access forms, scan insurance cards and IDs, and enter into an online waiting room from their vehicles using a QR code or simple link on ER parking lot signs. 

When a telehealth provider becomes available, a face-to-face appointment can offer the appropriate screening and a plan of care -- which may include physical entry to the ER, but may also prevent unnecessary ER visits. A doctor can assess a patient, give instructions, and even prescribe necessary medications all at a distance when appropriate.

2. Dispatch to Telehealth

When a 9-1-1 call comes in, dispatchers typically send a paramedic to assess a patient onsite. 

Rather than dispatching a paramedic immediately, a telehealth paramedic can engage with the patient through a virtual visit to determine whether an on-site visit to a free-standing clinic or ER is necessary.

Through this one, simple step:

  • Entire healthcare teams and patients achieve a lower risk of exposure
  • Patients avoid unnecessary ER expenses 
  • The emergency medical treatment system is less overcrowded and incurs fewer expenditures

3. Paramedics On Scene

Paramedics are often faced with questionable circumstances regarding a patient’s appropriate plan of care. A patient might insist on transport to an emergency room even though a paramedic knows that the ER visit is unnecessary. In most cases, a paramedic’s hands are tied and the patient is transported to a hospital where exposure and transmission are far more likely.

Telehealth offers a new option in the field. If a non-emergent patient insists on a transport, a paramedic can now bring a doctor to the patient without being in the same physical space. 

The physician is not only able to see, hear, and speak with the patient, but can also review the patient’s chart and forms -- all done remotely. At that point, the physician can provide a diagnosis, a plan of care, and even medical prescriptions when necessary.

4. Ambulance Availability 

In cities and metropolitan areas, fire departments and private EMS agencies often struggle with ambulance availability. Ambulances are pulled in multiple directions until resources are completely exhausted, and patient care begins to suffer.

By implementing a telehealth solution, municipalities can offer a new level of mobile triage. 

Paramedic or EMT-B engines, where they are run, can be dispatched to less urgent calls to assess and treat a patient while keeping ambulances available for urgent calls. Should the engine paramedics need to escalate a call, they can initiate a telehealth physician visit directly at the scene of care.

Private EMS agencies that implement a telehealth solution have the ability to send a non-ambulance unit or supervisor unit to less urgent calls, leaving the more-equipped ambulance available for more higher acuity situations.

Impacts of Telehealth

Outside of the challenges presented by COVID-19, telehealth has immediate, positive impacts for medical care providers and patients, including: 

  • Fewer unnecessary ER transports and admissions 
  • Lower costs for ER
  • Smaller payments to insurance companies ($200 for a telehealth visit rather than $2000+ ambulance ride/ER visit)
  • Revenue generation for EMS agencies and physician offices without the need for ER transports/visits
  • Increased availability of ambulances and ER rooms for patients who need it