New ambulance program aims to provide more affordable care in Knox County

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A federal ambulance pilot program being implemented in Knox County is aiming to help people in need of emergency medical care get it quicker and at a lower cost. Knox County is among the first places in the nation to implement this new system.

According to American Medical Response, the nation’s largest private ambulance provider, more than 40% of calls for an ambulance are “low acuity” meaning the patient does not need an emergency room. Under the new program, patients will be offered a chance to be treated by the EMTs and paramedics, or have a telemedicine visit with a doctor who may recommend treatment or transport to an alternative destination, like a doctor’s office or urgent care center.

AMR says the utilization of an alternative destination other than a hospital would save the patient money, as an Emergency Room visit in Tennessee averages more than $1,800.

“This is the future of the system, everybody knows that,” said Josh Spencer, AMR’s Southeast Regional Director. “This marks a move away from the ‘You call, we haul’ system and towards faster, more appropriate, more economical care. Hopefully, Emergency Rooms will be less crowded when those who don’t need an ER are seen elsewhere, so those who do need an ER can be seen more quickly.”

“Some KFD firefighters view ET3 as a potential game-changer – one of the biggest advances in ambulance services since the 1970s.” 

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon

AMR has been selected as a participant to implement the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Emergency Triage, Treat and Transport (ET3) program. AMR paramedics and EMTs will assess patients on-site and determine if the patient meets the criteria for treatment in place via telemedicine or transported to a lower acuity alternative destination, such as local urgent care.

“We look forward to seeing the benefits this program brings to those seeking care in Knox County,” said Senior Director and Public Health Officer Dr. Martha Buchanan. “Every patient is different, and this is an opportunity to allow ambulance care teams to provide more individualized care at a lower price to the patient.” 

AMR chose Knox County for the program because of the quality of the operation and that fact allows this new effort to be tested on all three populations: urban, suburban, and rural.

“These are important first steps in improving a national system that has gone far too long without being updated for a new age,” said Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs. “This will help get people the most appropriate care, often at a much lower price.”

A release from AMR said the plan has been coordinated with both local and statewide healthcare officials and cited help from Knoxville Senators Dr. Richard Briggs and Becky Duncan Massey.

“Personalizing healthcare and providing more care options is always good for patients,” said Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon. “Some KFD firefighters view ET3 as a potential game-changer – one of the biggest advances in ambulance services since the 1970s.” 

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