Community paramedics program could help provide primary-care services, help address state’s provider shortage

Next spring, the Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services could establish a community paramedics pilot program that has the potential to ease the state’s shortage pf primary-care health providers.

The idea was prompted by the likelihood that the state’s expansion of the Medicaid program would lead to a shortage of primary-care personnel. It would add community paramedics to a local health care delivery system, reports Chuck Mason of the Bowling Green Daily News.

“We’re in the first stages of looking into this,” Michael Poynter, executive director of the EMS board, told Mason. “Vulnerable populations with new health insurance plans will not have access to a provider because of the increase in demand.” The provider shortage, particularly in rural areas, especially affects those without to transportation, said Poynter.

Under the program, a primary-care partner could refer a patient to EMS personnel to provide services such as fall prevention, blood draws or medication administration, in the patient’s home. The paramedic would provide documentation to the patient’s primary care physician.

The program has the potential to allow paramedics to play a more active role in care delivery, changing the face of emergency medical services, writes Mason. “The big question at this point is how health care providers would receive reimbursement from the government for expenses related to community paramedics and how the concept would integrate into the health care systems already in place in Kentucky,” Poynter told Mason.

Some say such a program could reduce overall health care costs, reports Mason. It could even help reduce hospital re-admissions, potentially saving them millions of dollars because federal health reform penalizes them for re-admissions.

EMS personnel “have the training, expertise and scope of practice to provide essential primary care services,” Poynter told Mason. He said such programs have been successful in Colorado, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, where paramedics are practicing community medicine after completing a training program.

Kentucky’s training could be provided by colleges and universities, Mason writes. Western Kentucky University is exploring coursework for emerging jobs in the health care field. “Patient education, teaching about healthy best practices and health care screening could be some of the roles filled by the community paramedic,” Poynter told Mason. “The idea is not to replace home health or physician office visits, but rather to augment the health care.” (Read more)

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