East Tennessee ambulance house calls may prevent return hospital visits


LOUDON (WATE) – If you’ve ever yearned for the days when the doctor made house calls, the next best thing may be Mobile Integrated Healthcare. It’s designed to help patients just home from the hospital avoid going back within a certain period of time.

Under new health care reform laws, hospitals will face penalties for these re-admissions. Priority Ambulance in Loudon County isn’t using its ambulances for a home visit. Instead, they show us what a home visit would be like, as they travel in a Jeep filled with essential medical equipment.

EMS Director Travis Estes took WATE 6 On Your Side along for a non-emergency house call, something Estes never dreamed he’d be doing until now.

“You know, that was something you kinda saw on TV and stuff from many years ago,” Estes said. “Now, it’s coming full circle.”

Estes visited the Loudon County home of Helen Shipley, 95, setting up shop in her dining room.

“Let’s go over some of your medications,” he told Shipley. “You been having any problems?”

“Not since, well, about a month ago, I fell,” said Shipley.

Estes then checked Shipley’s blood pressure and made sure her medications are up to date. In the kitchen where she recently fell, Estes spotted a throw rug that could be a hazard. He advised Shipley to get rid of the rug, to which she agreed.

This service is designed to prevent another fall and therefore, another trip to the hospital for patients like Shipley.

Dennis Rowe of Priority Ambulance is leading the charge to get this program in place in Loudon County.

“The most expensive cost to a patient currently is re-hospitalization and the tests that have to go on, so if we can act as a stopgap to intervene early on, with the physician’s office, and the other folks that are involved in that care, home health, etc., then we can prevent that person from bouncing back,” he explained.

MedStar, an EMS agency in Fort Worth, Texas, began mobile integrated health care in 2009. It focused on 21 patients that it transported to emergency rooms more than 2,000 times in one year, at a cost of nearly $963,000 in ambulance charges alone.

Many of these bills are noncollectable. Through house calls like this, MedStar says there were a thousand fewer calls per year from just those 21 patients.

Matt Zadavsky, the head of the program said during a Skype interview the savings are incredible for everyone who pays in to Medicare.

“Every time that system is able to prevent that readmission, we have saved Medicare, you and I, the people who are paying the costs for Medicare, $10,000 in just that one admission,” he explained.

Priority Ambulance is hopeful that with each house call like this one, East Tennessee will one day see such savings.

Right now, 33 states have approved Mobile Integrated Healthcare. A Tennessee law went into effect in July paving the way for it here. The law allows EMS agencies like Priority to provide non-emergency care. Priority says the program should be underway in Loudon County in about six months.

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