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Roles of Community Paramedicine in Rural Healthcare Systems

Community paramedicine programs are not designed to provide standalone healthcare services. Instead, they serve in expanded roles and fill gaps in access to healthcare in rural communities by working closely with other providers, services, and organizations in the community. These roles can include:

Coordinating with non-emergency healthcare facilities. Community paramedics are trained to provide some services in the location in which they meet the patient. However, in some cases, additional non-emergent care, like time under observation for drug or alcohol detox, may be needed. The Institute for Population Health Improvement at the University of California, Davis reports that in communities where non-emergency healthcare services are available, community paramedics can coordinate with or provide transportation to health service facilities including primary care, urgent care, mental healthcare, and substance use disorder treatment. In this way, community paramedics can support access to care in locations other than an emergency department (ED).

Transporting patients directly to alternate locations. In some cases, individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis and request emergency services would benefit most if they received care directly from a behavioral health facility. However, when these patients call emergency medical services (EMS), they are often transported to an emergency department and then transferred to a behavioral health center, the California Health Foundation reports. This type of transportation adds to increased emergency department (ED) wait times and delays the patient from receiving the care they truly need. Transport to an ED can also cause additional disruption or anxiety for the person in crisis. In these cases, community paramedics can assess the patient and transport them directly to a behavioral health facility, if no emergency medical services are needed. In addition to transporting patients to alternate locations, community paramedicine programs may also work with the local authority that coordinates non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) to ensure patients have reliable transportation to medical appointments.

Providing medication management. People living with multiple chronic conditions or other serious health issues may receive multiple prescriptions. These medications can be difficult to manage, but in order to achieve the best health outcomes, they must be taken as prescribed: on time, with or without food, and timed appropriately with other medicines. Community paramedicine programs can team up with local pharmacists to conduct home visits to review medication lists or monitor conditions like hypertension.

Resources to Learn More

Community Paramedicine: A New Approach to Serving Complex Populations
Outlines the specific roles of community paramedics and describes two community paramedic programs that focus on high-needs populations in Wisconsin and Massachusetts.
Organization(s): Center for Health Care Strategies, Inc.
Date: 5/2017