A Los Angeles County Fire Department program is seeking to ease strained ER resources by allowing its workers to connect mildly-ill people with nurses via teleconference, officials announced Friday.
Under the new Telemedicine Program, firefighters or paramedics who are treating a person with symptoms like a fever or bad cough can video call a nurse or nurse practitioner for evaluation rather than sending the patient to the emergency room. They can also video call with an emergency physician, if necessary.
Officials have sought creative ways to relieve the burden on hospitals caused by the coronavirus, with hotels, event centers and ships being used as medical facilities. The Telemedicine Program has a similar goal, according to a statement from the department.
“To date, the program has diverted many patients who otherwise would have gone to an emergency department, keeping those beds available for those who really need them,” the statement said.
For those who call the fire department because of mild medical issues, it may be better to stay home rather than go to the emergency room. By going to the emergency room they could be exposed to other diseases and tie up medical resources, according to Sean Ferguson, a public information officer for the department. The Telemedicine Program, he said, can help determine that.
Nurses can also provide a treatment plan for the patient and even call in prescriptions, including cough medications, through the video call.
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The program was implemented March 16, with all paramedics able to call in a nurse's evaluation with it. It is now being rolled out to fire engines.
While a person would need to be evaluated in-person at a testing site to determine if they have COVID-19, a nurse who is phoned in can help a patient decide if that is advisable, Ferguson said.