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Telehealth Helps First Responders Weed Out Non-Emergency Coronavirus Calls

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The goal of the Los Angeles County Fire Department telehealth program is to keep non-emergency hospital trips to a minimum. (Courtesy of LA County Fire Department)
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The Los Angeles County Fire Department is using telehealth to reduce non-emergency hospital trips during the coronavirus pandemic.

The new service allows paramedics to video call a nurse practitioner or doctor to triage and treat non-urgent cases, rather than sending them by ambulance to the nearest emergency department. Fire Battalion Chief Roland Sprewell said his department is getting lots of calls from residents worried they have the coronavirus.

“Understandably a lot of people are frightened right now and may think that something that’s a simple cold is worthy of being transported to an emergency room,” Sprewell said.

The remote health care provider can even call in prescriptions for a patient, he added.

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“To date, the program has diverted many patients who otherwise would have gone to an emergency department, keeping those beds available for those who really need them,” Sprewell said.

LONG-TERM CHANGES TO EMERGENCY RESPONSE

Funding for the program, which was launched in late March, came from the county's Quality and Productivity Commission. Sprewell said the program was already in the works, but when the coronavirus hit the focus changed.

“I think it's going to revolutionize what we do here, as pre-hospital care providers,” he said. “It’s going to leave a lot of those hospital beds in the emergency room for those who are truly suffering the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and allow other patients the ability to be seen elsewhere.”

Similar mobile integrated health programs, known as MIH, have been launched in other states to help separate and treat non-virus-related calls and direct resources to patients who may be infected. They also help reduce the chances of spreading the virus to first responders.

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