A visit to the emergency room can be a nightmare.
It often starts with an expensive ride in an ambulance that leads to hours-long waits to be seen and sent home. A couple of weeks later, a four- to five-figure bill arrives.
Now there's another option.
A new partnership is bringing health care to residents' doorsteps.
Penrose-St. Francis Health Services and DispatchHealth have teamed to send "rovers" with medical staff who can tend to common injuries and illnesses in a person's home. Patients can be treated in their bed or favorite lounge chair, or in the parking lot of a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen if that's where they happen to be, physician's assistant Shad Brown joked, recalling one of his recent patients.
It's the 21st century house call. Or, as DispatchHealth spokesman Kevin Riddleberger calls it, the Uber of health care.
The service became available in Colorado Springs in May and in two months helped 225 people, 70 percent of whom were older than 60, Riddleberger said. So far in August, the teams - consisting of an EMT and physician's assistant or nurse practitioner - responded to 94 calls.
The service is available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. along the Interstate 25 corridor, from Monument to Fountain and west from Marksheffel Road, and hours will be extended to 10 p.m. in September when a second rover hits the road. You can reach the service by calling 719-270-0805 or through DispatchHealth's website, dispatchhealth.com, or mobile app.
No calls were dispatched during an hour-long ride with the service Wednesday, but the family of an 80-year-old woman called seeking advice after they found she'd fallen and spent the night on the floor.
She had hit her head and was showing visible bruising. The mobile kits can do a lot, but they can't scan for brain bleeds, Brown said. He recommended she be taken to a hospital to be checked.
"I'm more cautious with someone like that," Brown said. "I can't do CT scans."
DispatchHealth is meant to provide appropriate care in the appropriate setting, not replace the ER if that's the best option, Brown said. Chest pain, stroke symptoms, vomiting blood, rectal bleeding, loss of consciousness and other severe symptoms are examples of when to turn to the emergency room or 911.
Wednesday, Brown added high fever to the list, recalling an elderly woman they found slumped in a chair and running a 103-degree fever. They called an ambulance.
That scenario doesn't play out frequently, but about 8 percent of patients are referred to the emergency department, either when they call into the dispatch center or when the rover arrives, Brown said.
The service is meant to redirect the roughly 37 percent of ER patients who don't need to go there, Riddleberger said. For example, staff often are called to help elderly patients with urinary tract infections, which can be treated outside of a hospital, he said.
Dr. Nick Piantanida, a sports medicine specialist, said the service provides peace of mind for local physicians like him. If patients can't get to his office for whatever reason, he can send DispatchHealth to them, he said.
"We don't want that next call to be from the emergency department about (our patient's) care because they couldn't get access to us," Piantanida said. "It helps that the care is directed by their trusted physician or physician team."
Mainly, the service is meant to be a more convenient health-care option.
On Monday, a coworker helped a family with three sick children, Brown said. "It saves from having to haul the whole family in (to the emergency department)," he said.
It also saves money.
DispatchHealth has been operating in Denver since 2013, where the teams responded to 4,000 calls last year. This year, they're expected to handle as many as 10,000 calls. That's about $15 million in savings to patients who otherwise might have gone to the ER, Riddleberger said.
Because DispatchHealth contracts with Medicare, Medicaid and a range of insurance providers, most patients pay $0 to $30 for visits. Those without insurance pay about $275.
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