Emergency medical crews in Arlington, Virginia, can now start transporting some patients to urgent care centers instead of hospital emergency rooms and could, later this year, start treating some patients at home via telemedicine under an “innovative” program to lower costs and streamline EMS operations.
Arlington County announced the shift in a news release Friday.
The county’s EMS department is one of 250 nationwide selected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to roll out the Emergency Triage, Treat and Transport program, known as ET3.
Starting this month, EMS will transport some patients to Virginia Hospital Center’s Urgent Care location at 764 23rd St. South. Other alternate destinations for ambulances to transport patients are expected to announced in the future, the county said.
Patients will have the option of requesting transportation to an urgent care center depending on the patient’s “symptoms and the severity of the medical condition,” the county said in the news release.
The shift could save thousands in medical costs, the county said, pointing to studies showing that treatment at urgent care centers can cost up to 50% less than comparable treatment at hospitals.
For now, the program is limited to patients who have Medicare, the federal health insurance program for those 65 and older.
Up to now, Medicare regulations have only covered the cost of ambulance transportation to hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, even when other options, such as a visit to an urgent care, could actually meet patients’ needs.
The Medicare agency says the ET3 model could help overburdened EMS systems across the county be more efficient and lower costs by reducing trips to the ER and unnecessary hospitalizations that often result.
Starting later this year, the Arlington County EMS said it will roll out the next phase of the program in which emergency crews and paramedics will be able to treat patients in the patients’ homes — without having to transport them to a health care facility — working with a doctor, physician assistant or nurse practitioner via telemedicine.