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EMSA Services Under Strain, CEO Warns

TULSA, Okla. -- As the baby boomer generation ages and health-care costs continue to increase, emergency medical services face a series of daunting problems, the CEO of EMSA said Monday. Federal health reform may spark the discussion to improve the nation's foundering health-care infrastructure, Stephen Williamson said during a Tulsa Press Club Page One luncheon.

The number of patients transported has increased by 35 percent in the past five years, partly because of the growing population of older people who are more likely to have chronic conditions and more likely to need emergency care, Williamson said.

Of the patients transported, 62 percent of them are covered by Medicare or Medicaid, 18 percent are on private insurance and 20 percent are uninsured, he said. For those who are covered, reimbursement rates often don't cover the cost of transporting a patient, he said.

To help save money, EMSA studies call volumes and trends to determine where to position active ambulance crews. Technology advances like electronic health records and global positioning systems also help efficiency, Williamson said. For the emergency health services to continue operating properly, the existing infrastructure needs to change, he said.

"The answer, though, isn't simply more money." Emergency rooms aren't overcrowded with people who have genuine emergencies, but with people who have no other access to health care. They go to the emergency room because they know they will get treatment, and sometimes because they don't have another way to see a physician.

"It's people whose condition worsened because they couldn't get to a doctor earlier," he said.

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