West Metro Fire Rescue eyeing partner to provide in-home care

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By Deborah Swearingen

West Metro Fire Rescue has an idea to help district residents cut back on unnecessary transports to the emergency room. It’s an idea that it hopes will save patients money and reduce costs for the department.

“We’ve kind of found ourselves in a predicament in that when we deliver EMS to the community, we really have two options,” said Jeremy Metz, West Metro’s emergency medical services division chief. “Those two options are: We can transport the patient to the hospital or we can (treat) them on-scene.”

In 2017, 70 percent of West Metro’s calls that were EMS resulted in a transport to the hospital. In total, West Metro transported about 17,500 patients last year. This is the most in department history, largely due to the merger with Wheat Ridge Fire Protection District.

Oftentimes, those with less serious medical issues, who may not need to visit the ER, are left with unnecessary charges for an ambulance ride and emergency services, while those who should go but can’t afford to pay must find their own way to the hospital.

To help combat this problem, West Metro is moving towards a partnership with DispatchHealth, a Denver-based startup that provides in-home care for patients. The service is ideal for those who need medical attention that isn’t emergent and can be provided by an emergency room-certified nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant.

When West Metro EMS is dispatched to a medical call, its staff will assess the situation. In scenarios when a patient doesn’t need emergency medical attention, West Metro will call for the DispatchHealth advanced resource medic car. According to DispatchHealth employees, this car operates as a miniature emergency room. The company’s medical personnel are equipped to treat a variety of ailments, including minor fractures, skin infections, dehydration, strep throat, nose bleeds and more. DispatchHealth also can administer IV fluids, provide medications, take blood tests and rapid infectious disease tests and suture a patient.

The nurse or PA assessing a patient has access to an on-call physician should they have questions or need assistance. After the in-home visit, the medical professional follows up with the patient and provides information to the patient’s primary care physician. DispatchHealth partners with insurance companies to provide a self-pay rate of $275, which includes everything from evaluation, IV fluid administration and stitches to blood work and medication. The cost may be less under some insurance plans and for seniors with Medicare.

All in all, DispatchHealth says its services help to improve the continuity of care. It also sees a benefit to an at-home visit, particularly for the aging population.

“When you’re in the home, there’s a lot more information that you are privy to than if you’re seeing them in the office,” said Kevin Riddleberger of DispatchHealth, noting that, among other things, medical personnel can check for adequate food and access to transportation.

Considering a large portion of West Metro is in Jefferson County — home to the largest aging population in Colorado — Chief Don Lombardi sees the partnership as a great fit.

The service reduces cost and wait time for patients and lessens liability for West Metro.

No decisions were made in the Jan. 16 meeting, but the chief predicted the plan would come before the board in February for approval.