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An acute case of bronchitis is no fun for anyone, but when Grace Lamb, a 91-year-old resident at Lakewood’s Eaton Senior Communities, came down with a case of it, it was debilitating.
“I was too sick to even go to the doctor,” Lamb remembered. “I just had to stay in bed.”
For a long time, the only option in situations like this would be to call an ambulance and go to the emergency room, both of which are among the highest healthcare costs a person can incur, often costing thousands of dollars.
But DispatchHealth, a Denver-based company, is changing that by bringing the ER to patients’ homes.
“So many people didn’t have any options when an emergency happened, and so they would go to the ER, which can be very expensive,” said Kevin Riddleberger, co-founder and chief strategy officer with DispatchHealth. “What we do is not your typical house call. Seventy percent of what they have in the ER, we bring with us when we’re called.”
Operating from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. year-round, DispatchHealth has six fully stocked cars that can be booked by phone, online or by the company’s app, to come to a person’s home or workplace when acute medical care is needed, instead of going to an ER or hospital.
There is a nurse practitioner or physician assistant and emergency medical technician in the car, as well as an emergency department physician on call in case support is needed. Employees can provide IV fluids and medications, blood tests and rapid infectious disease tests.
It usually takes about 45 minutes to an hour for a car to arrive once it is called.
“When we started, we asked how we could take an ER from a hospital to a person’s home,” said Caren Misky, a nurse practitioner and DispatchHealth’s national director of advanced practice providers. “We provide the same kind of medical care in a different way. When you’re in a person’s home, it’s much more personal and you get a glimpse at their lifestyle, which might change what treatments you provide.”
Once a patient receives treatment, DispatchHealth follows up with primary care physicians and can recommend one to people who don’t have one.
According to Riddleberger, the most common conditions treated since the company started in August 2015 are urinary tract infections, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, falls with extremity pain and upper respiratory infections.
Since its inception, DispatchHealth has dealt with 6,469 cases.
“DispatchHealth is the next iteration of emergency care,” wrote Dr. Phil Mitchell, the company’s vice president of medical affairs, in an email interview. “We are very data driven. We track as much as we can in regards to patient care, escalation of care to a higher level, and documentation transfer to the patients’ care team.”
DispatchHealth takes all major insurances in Colorado, as well as Medicaid, Medicare and TRICARE, and for those without insurance, the average rate is around $200 for a visit, which is analogous to a visit to urgent care. The actual cost will vary based on a person’s insurance and coverage plan, Mitchell added, but it will almost always be cheaper than an ER visit.
The company estimates it saved $8.5 million in 911 and ER diverts, as well as other services, since it was created.
Both hospitals and other businesses are taking note of DispatchHealth, and taking use of its services. St. Anthony Hospital and Centura Health recently partnered with the company for their patients.
“DispatchHealth isn’t meant to replace primary care but, rather, serve as an expansion to coordinated care,” wrote Wendy Forbes, St. Anthony’s director of communications, in an email interview. “We viewed this partnership as a way to create easier access and convenience to people in our service community in an innovative way. It furthers our ‘care everywhere’ strategy where we want to be a partner for life with our patients.”
The City of Lakewood included DispatchHealth visits in its coverage about nine months ago, said Nancy Rhode, the city’s benefits and compensation manager, and has saved about $15,000 in claims in the first quarter of 2017.
“It’s a no-brainer for us because it really doesn’t cost us any more and comes right to people’s homes,” Rhode added. “So many times you can’t get into the doctor or it’s the weekend and the only places open are hospitals, but with this service, you can get the care you need right at your home.”
DispatchHealth has become very popular with senior care facilities and special care locations all over the metro area, especially since the average DispatchHealth user is about 66 years old.
“We’re available to everyone, but we do see many older people making use of our services,” Riddleberger said. “You just let us know your symptoms, and we’ll let you know we’re coming, if it’s a situation we can treat.”
Eaton Senior Communities started working with DispatchHealth in the fall of 2016, and Sarah Schoeder, the wellness director at the community, said it’s visited Eaton about 164 times, saving about $200,000 in Medicare claims. In 2016, West Metro Fire Rescue responded to 249 calls to Eaton for lift assist, non-medical and medical emergencies, and smoke alarms, she added. The hope is DispatchHealth will reduce the number of calls to West Metro.
“Eaton residents have called for every illness outlined in DispatchHealth’s brochure and it’s not unusual to see them in our community four times a day,” she said. “Residents are seen in the privacy of their homes. This is critical as our residents tend to be low-income and transportation is the biggest challenge to accessing medical care in a timely manner. Many here cannot afford costly ambulance rides when the services of urgent care is more appropriate.”
Not only did DispatchHealth come and take care of Lamb when she was fighting off bronchitis, but they also came back a few months later when she had a bout of the flu.
“They were so well equipped, and able to deal with anything I needed,” she said. “I’d recommend them to anyone with a heartbeat.”
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