A law passed with little fanfare could end up making a big difference to people who need routine medical care, especially those in rural areas. It could also save money.
A bill, introduced by Gov. Paul LePage and sponsored by Rep. Mike Willette, R-Presque Isle, calls for the creation of up to 12 pilot projects that would allow paramedics to provide medical treatment to patients in their homes.
For example, a patient with a chronic lung or breathing disorder who needs regular medication and breathing treatments would be referred to the program by a doctor or health care organization.
The paramedic would go to the patient’s home to check vital signs and make sure she is taking her medications and following through on other treatment. This would be done during down time between emergency calls.
Such care will lessen the chances of the individuals in the program needing to access the emergency room or be hospitalized once again. This is better for patients and could save money because hospital care is much more expensive.
It is important that review of the pilot projects include a close look at costs. Using paramedics during down time in their shifts is likely to save money. Paying paramedics to do the work of certified nurse assistants won’t.
Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle has already begun a training program for community paramedicine.
Similar pilot projects are already under way in several states. In Fort Worth, Texas, Dr. Jeffrey Beeson, past president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, told the Associated Press that allowing paramedics to visit patients can reduce the number of ambulance calls. He said local paramedics who normally would have spent downtime waiting for such calls have used that time to visit more than 200 patients over the past two years.
Dr. Michael Wilcox, of New Prague, Minn., runs a similar program that has treated more than 400 patients since 2008. He said paramedics there have been doing the work for free but that he hopes the federal government will pick up the tab — if the program proves it can save money.
Colorado approved a five-year pilot program to determine how much money the state and federal government might save in Medicare and Medicaid spending in Eagle County, which has a population of about 52,000, many of them in rural areas.
Tracy Hofeditz, a board member of the Colorado Academy of Family Physicians, said more than 600,000 people who are uninsured in Colorado could benefit from such a program without sacrificing the effectiveness of emergency responders.
This program can be a real help, especially to the state’s rural areas. Periodic reviews will help ensure it lives up to its promises.