Arlington turns to telehealth to free up ambulances

The Arlington, Virginia, fire department is turning to telehealth to help ease the strain on ambulance crews and hospitals.

Starting this month, if paramedics or EMTs in Arlington find that a patient meets certain criteria, the emergency workers will ask whether the patient would like to bring in a medical provider via an iPad. On the other end is a doctor, physician assistant or nurse practitioner.

“I can say to them, ‘Can you show me this wound? Move the ankle this way. Push on their belly’,” said Dr. E. Reed Smith, the operational medical director for Arlington County’s fire and police departments.

The telehealth visits are an alternative to a costly and time-consuming ambulance ride to the emergency room.

“There’s not a lot of benefit from COVID, but one of the things that we’ve shown is that we can deliver medicine remotely in an effective way,” Smith said.

“If they have signs or symptoms or anything that is concerning at all then we will always default to taking them to the hospital because that’s just safer.”

The medical providers will also be following up with some telehealth patients after their initial encounter to make sure a condition has not become more serious.

So far, Arlington has hired a half-dozen medical professionals to staff the telehealth calls. Smith anticipates them receiving two to three telehealth calls per day at first.

Montgomery County and the District also have a telehealth capability on EMS calls.

John Aaron

John Aaron is a news anchor and reporter for WTOP. After starting his professional broadcast career as an anchor and reporter for WGET and WGTY in Gettysburg, PA, he went on to spend several years in the world of sports media, working for Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network Radio, and WTOP sports.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow WTOP on Twitter and Instagram to engage in conversation about this article and others.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2022 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up