First responders are under severe strain as the pandemic surges again. Both 911 response and ambulance services across the nation have recently said they have reached a “breaking point.”
Early this month, president of the American Ambulance Association said that without further economic relief, the emergency system won’t be able to support a third wave of COVID-19 in the areas that have been strongly affected. In cities and rural areas, representatives of private EMS services say that relief funds received in the spring ran out months ago.
For weeks, the emergency medical industry was unsure of how to continue caring for communities when the cost of vital personal protective equipment has risen 20-25% during the latest phase of the health crisis. Plus, service providers have struggled with staffing due to illness and quarantine protocols. Just yesterday, the Dept. of Health and Human Services announced a $1.48 billion relief package for ambulance services within the federal Provider Relief Fund created to support hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare providers hardest hit by COVID-19.
But the situation remains tense as we face the next wave of the pandemic. Revenues for ambulance services have decreased along with valuable 911 calls and hospital transfer requests, as clinics and nursing homes postpone non-essential procedures. Since the onset of the pandemic, ambulance services have also been required to treat patients without bringing them to the hospital whenever possible. This change of procedures has helped contain the virus and prevent emergency rooms from getting overwhelmed. But Medicare and Medicaid do not reimburse ambulance companies for onsite treatment without patient transportation.
In this situation, patients and healthcare professionals may be left unsure of how to handle non-emergency health issues. It’s still important for patients to seek and receive medical attention, yet they understand the need to avoid overburdening emergency responders and resources.
Telephone Triage Can Ease the Strain the 911 and Ambulance Services
The best solution during this period is to direct patients away from hospitals and emergency services as much as possible. Statistics show that more than 50% of emergency room visits can be avoided. Getting effective care at doctor’s offices or urgent care clinic also has also been shown to reduce healthcare costs while increasing patient satisfaction.
Primary care physicians, pediatricians, and healthcare networks can limit the stress on 911 and ambulance services by providing 24/7 answering and tele-triage services. Let your patients know how they can reach your offices when they need non-emergency medical attention, even after regular hours.
As one of the main points of contact for patients needing medical attention, 911 often funnels them to the hospital. By urging patients to call other medical answering services, however, your network of practitioners can help alleviate some of the undue burden on emergency services and avoid overcrowding the hospitals.
Advantages of Using Remote Triage
In the same way that telemedicine has expanded and made healthcare services more accessible and safer during the coronavirus pandemic, remote triage offers a number of valuable advantages. Skilled medical answering staff can provide 24-hour attention, resources, care instructions, and guidance for patients over the phone.
The biggest benefit is that primary care physicians and staff can focus more of their time and energy on treating patients, rather than directing calls. It also reduces healthcare costs, non-urgent ER admissions, ensures that critical medical resources are used efficiently, and actually boosts patient satisfaction.
Effective remote triage also helps to limit the spread of COVID-19. When patients are treated at home or know exactly where to go to get the care they need, this reduces the risk of exposure for both patients and hospital workers.
How Does Tele-Triage Work in Primary Care Practice?
Patients can connect with medical answering agents either through the office’s main phone line or through a dedicated phone line as overflow support, after-hours or round-the-clock coverage. Phone calls are answered promptly and prioritized according to their needs. Calls are then handled according to the doctors’ requests:
- Recorded and transferred as a message to the appropriate practitioner,
- Forwarded to on-call practitioners,
- Connected to the telehealth platform for a remote visit,
- Scheduled for an in-person visit,
- Screened for symptoms,
- Processing patients and verifying insurance,
- Redirected to emergency medical services.
Pre-Appointment Screening for COVID-19
Physicians can further safeguard the health of patients and staff by implementing an effective tele-triage protocol prior to appointments. According to the AMA, patients should be screened at least 24 hours before an in-person visit.
With the assistance of medical answering staff, patients can be efficiently screened for COVID-19 symptoms and exposure before they ever step foot inside the doctor’s office. Tele-triage can help direct affected patients to local testing facilities or designated health services in a timely manner. It is also a good way to answer patients’ questions and provide information to help them manage mild symptoms at home.
Supporting Tele-Triage 24/7 – PatientCalls
Medical answering services are designed to increase efficiency and simplify accessibility for patients and their healthcare providers – both in-person and remotely. We work with traditional medical offices, practitioners working from home, and tele-triage procedures with seamless call management and EMR integrations. Contact PatientCalls for more information on how we can support your medical facility during this difficult time.