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Development and Implementation of a Community Paramedicine Program in Rural United States

  • Author(s): Myers, Lucas A.
  • Carlson, Peter N.
  • Krantz, Paul W.
  • Johnson, Hannah L.
  • Will, Matthew D.
  • Bjork, Tasha M.
  • Dirkes, Marlene
  • Bowe, Justin E.
  • Gunderson, Kirk A.
  • Russi, Christopher S.
  • et al.
Abstract

Introduction: Community paramedicine (CP) is an innovative care model focused on medical management for patients suffering from chronic diseases or other conditions that result in over-utilization of healthcare services. Despite their value, CP care models are not widely used in United States healthcare settings. More research is needed to understand the feasibility and effectiveness of implementing CP programs. Our objective was to develop a CP program to better meet the needs of complex, high-utilizer patients in a rural setting.

Methods: We conducted an observational descriptive case series in a community, 25-bed, critical access hospital and primary care clinic in a rural Wisconsin county. Multiple stakeholders from the local health system and associated ambulance service were active participants in program development and implementation. Eligible patients receiving the intervention were identified as complex or high need by a referring physician. Primary outcomes included measures of emergency department, hospital, and clinic utilization. Secondary measures included provider and patient satisfaction.

Results: We characterized 32 unique patients as high utilizers requiring assistance in medical management. These patients were enrolled into the program and categorized as high utilizers requiring assistance in medical management. The median age was 76 years, and 68.8% were female. After six months, we found a statistically significant decline in patient utilization for primary care (53.3%, p = .006) and ED visits (59.3%, p = .007), but not for hospitalizations (60%, p = .13, non-significant (NS), compared to the six months preceding enrollment. Overall, the total number of healthcare contacts was increased after implementation (623 before vs 790 after, + 167, +26.8%). Implementation of the CP program resulted in increased overall use of local healthcare resources in patients referred by physicians as high utilizers.

Conclusion: The implementation of an in-home CP program targeting high users of healthcare resources resulted in a decrease in utilization in the hospital, ED, and primary care settings; however, it was balanced and exceeded by the number of CP visits. CP programs align well with population health strategies and could be better leveraged to fill gaps in care and promote appropriate access to healthcare services. Further study is required to determine whether the shift in type of healthcare access reduces or increases cost.

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