COVID-19 has created significant increases in healthcare utilization, as well as requests for 9-1-1 EMS services. Local hospital Emergency Departments are crowded and wait times have increased. Forsyth County EMS is experiencing critical staffing shortages due to both employee illness and lack of EMS providers in the workforce. These forces combined, have created a situation where Forsyth County EMS is not always able to provide ambulance transport in a timely manner. The EMS system continues to adapt by configuring operations to maintain ambulances for high acuity (life threatening) calls, causing lower acuity calls to experience longer wait times for ambulances.
One of our strategies has been to partner with our local healthcare systems to provide a telehealth option for 9-1-1 callers who have lower acuity complaints. Forsyth County Emergency Services has partnered initially with Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist to serve as this telehealth provider. The process is to connect 9-1-1 callers with non-emergent complaints, to the telehealth provider. 9-1-1 callers undergo a screening process by our 9-1-1 telecommunicators to determine resource and response needs and only non-emergency complaints would qualify for a virtual telehealth medical visit. Now when calling 9-1-1 for EMS services, if you have met appropriate screening criteria, you will be asked if you would like to have a virtual visit with a medical provider. If you consent, you will be connected to a telehealth provider for a virtual visit with a physician, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner.
Our goal is to provide our citizens timely and appropriate access to a medical provider and potentially avoid an emergency department visit and EMS transport. Often the telehealth visit will be all that is needed and sometimes the medical provider may assist the 9-1-1 caller in scheduling a visit in a medical clinic. This strategy better aligns the 9-1-1 caller’s needs with the most appropriate and cost-effective medical care. In the event the 9-1-1 caller needs EMS transport, the telehealth provider will have EMS respond to the scene. This program trial began on November 15, 2021, and will be reevaluated after 90 days. If the program proves viable, we will look to also partner with Novant, who is aware of our trial.