Five Lake County (IL) Fire and EMS Agencies Using Telehealth to Improve Quality of Care for Seniors

Five Lake County (IL) fire and emergency medical services (EMS) agencies were awarded participation in an innovative pilot program offered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which aims to improve efficiency and enhance the quality of care for seniors. The participating agencies represent a large portion of Lake County and include the following fire districts and departments: Wauconda, Greater Round Lake, Mundelein, Libertyville, and Grayslake.

CMS introduced the Emergency Triage, Treat, and Transport (ET3) pilot program in February 2019. ET3’s new flexible payment model allows participating ambulance care teams to deliver two new services to address the emergency healthcare needs of Medicare Fee For Service (FFS) beneficiaries following a 911 call. Through ET3, EMS providers can now transport patients to care sites other than the emergency department, such as an urgent care center, primary care office, or a community mental health center. They can also treat these patients on-site, with a qualified health care provider either at the scene or via telehealth. Just over 200 agencies in the country have achieved this status of piloting the ET3 program.

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Through the ET3 program, paramedics responding to 911 calls are trained to assess patients and provide intervention based on the complaint and the level of emergency. Patients then have the option of being transported to the emergency room, to an alternative site such as an urgent care center or doctor’s office, or to be treated by a physician through telemedicine on a mobile device. “The option to use telemedicine is especially significant during the COVID- 19 pandemic,” said Erik Christensen, the Medical Officer of the Wauconda Fire Protection District. “Emergency rooms can get overwhelmed, and a secure video call can keep stable patients in the comfort of their own home without the potential exposure to other sick patients,” he added.

The five county agencies are using Backline from DrFirst for a secure video telehealth connection with emergency medical staff at Advocate Condell Medical Center and Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital. Backline is an award-winning care collaboration platform that allows clinicians to treat patients, share images and documents, and is HIPAA- compliant to protect patients’ health information.

“The ET3 program is the most significant opportunity to improve the delivery of emergency care since the wide adoption of paramedics in the mid-1970s,” said Christensen. “Offering telemedicine visits in the field and transporting patients to urgent care centers or doctors’ offices for less urgent conditions, such as minor skin lacerations or simple sprains, is a game-changer that means seniors in these communities can get the most appropriate care in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.”

Implementation of the ET3 program is supported in part by a $75,000 grant from the Healthcare Foundation of Northern Lake County (HFNLC). “We are grateful for HFNLC’s generous support that will help patients get faster access to the care they need, performed by paramedics who can treat them on-site, as appropriate,” said Greg Formica, Fire Chief of the Greater Round Lake Fire Protection District. In addition, Advocate Condell Medical Center and Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital worked collaboratively with the fire departments to implement the ET3 program. “The enthusiasm and support of both hospitals have played a critical role in getting these programs in place,” added Formica. “Expanded telemedicine ensures some of our most vulnerable community members are able to be taken care of in easier and more effective ways,” Senator Melinda Bush said. “I am proud of our local EMS agencies, and look forward to seeing how they are able to better serve our area.”             

The paramedics’ services through the ET3 program are expected to evolve to meet the communities’ changing needs. “We intend to expand our services over time to deliver better patient care and outcomes,” said Formica. “We are a part of a group that is the first in the nation to participate in this program, and we are all excited to see it flourish and improve county residents’ lives.”                              

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