TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Telehealth technology that launched this month is already helping Travis County Emergency Service District 2 – and its patients – save time and money.

On Oct. 13, ESD 2 started using Tele911, a service that connects non-critical patients with physicians through a tablet.

“We already used it within the first 6 hours,” said Chief Nick Perkins.

Here’s how it works.

  • EMTs arrive on a 911 call, trained to evaluate if a patient can get treated without going to the hospital
  • If EMTs determine a patient can be helped virtually, they activate the Tele911 software
  • Within 3 minutes, a Tele911 doctor appears to provide a virtual assessment

“After the patient is seen with the in-home physicians, they do a 24-hour follow-up the next day to make sure they’re feeling better, to make sure they’re doing OK,” said Tele911 Marketing Director Kimberly Janicak.

She said the doctors are all full-time ER physicians who contract with Tele911 on the side to provide the service. The service does not cost any money for emergency service departments. Tele911 instead partners with insurance companies, Janicak said.

“An ambulance ride can range anywhere from $400-1,500,” said Chief Perkins. He also said the streamlined process is crucial now more than ever – given the staffing struggles the first responder and medical industries face.

According to the Federal Interagency Committee on EMS, telehealth services, in general, have expanded significantly since the height of the pandemic. Travis County ESD 2 is the first of the county’s 14 ESDs to implement a telehealth service, according to Chief Perkins.

Austin-Travis County EMS developed its own system back in 2020. The agency said year-to-date, it has served about 800 patients through telehealth.