Hang up and dial 911

The easy button

The easy button

American consumers are used to fast access to service: Check the web to see when an Amazon package is arriving (sometimes same day now), speak to a customer service rep at Fidelity 24 x 7. If anything, convenience is increasing as pain points are being addressed. For example, I experienced frustration and poor service from the local cab company for 25 years, but now I can just press a button and summon an Uber in minutes, watching the driver’s progress on the map as the car approaches.

Healthcare sort of understands that it needs to change, but access to care is still difficult, tools are clunky, and CYA approaches reign.

One reason people go to the ED is that they know they can access care there. They don’t have to check the hours of operation and don’t need to sign up for an appointment that’s weeks or months away.

While there is a general understanding that ED visits should be reduced, in practice many providers actually encourage overuse. Call the main number of any hospital or physician office and one of the first things you’ll hear on the recording is, “If this is a medical emergency, please hang up and dial 911.” Is it any wonder that people get the message that 911 is the route to take for anything serious?

Generally, once an ambulance is summoned the patient is going to the hospital emergency department unless they convince the EMTs they are well enough to stay put. That’s why I was excited to read about a program in Reno, Nevada that preserves the convenience of 911 and the ED while avoiding some of the downside.

Paramedics are being trained to handle some primary care tasks –such as helping heart failure patients avoid complications– that often degenerate into an ED visit and hospitalization. They are also being given a broader set of destination options when they do transport, such as detox centers and urgent care.

As usual there are challenges: EMTs need different training if they are to fill the roles of primary care and visiting nurses, insurance may not pay for non-traditional approaches like this, and while this is a cheaper and better route than the ED, I doubt it’s cheaper or better than traditional primary care. Clearly Nevada doesn’t want to encourage more 911 calls.

I look forward to learning more about this experiment.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

2 thoughts on “Hang up and dial 911

  1. Pingback: Summertime! Health Wonk Review

  2. Greg Judd

    “One reason people go to the ED is that they know they can access care there. ”

    Plus helping people get to them is the focus of a nationwide PSA on the streets of every community of size in the US:

    Reply

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