AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-Travis County EMS has made changes to help patients who don’t need to go to the emergency room, but still call 911. Those calls represent the vast majority of what it handles — ATCEMS said only 6% of its calls for medical assistance are for life-threatening emergencies.
“Our industry has changed a lot,” said Division Chief Stephen White. He added that since the pandemic, people have started to call 911 more not just for emergencies like heart attacks, strokes or trauma — but also when they can’t get in to see a doctor.
“They know if they call 911, ATCEMS is going to show up,” he said.
The agency’s Collaborative Care Communication Center, known as C4, caters to callers who need help, but don’t need to get taken to the emergency room in an ambulance.
It includes a team of coordinating dispatchers as well as physicians assistants who can make house calls in SUVs and telehealth options. It’s also been part of the city’s effort to connect those experiencing homelessness with services in a streamlined way. This initiative is within ATCEMS’ current budget.
“With this technology, we’re trying to address the low-acuity calls that don’t need to go to the emergency room,” Chief White said.
He said the combination of an ambulance ride and an emergency room visit can cost almost $2,000. Any tests, procedures or medications would tack on even more costs.
“We can help fill prescriptions, we can refer people to primary care and urgent care,” he said. “You can pretty much throw anything at [the C4 team], and they’re going to find something that’s going to help that patient.”
The team also follows up with patients to make sure their treatment is working.