Defining EMS for our Communities

“Foot Pain”

“County 9-1-1 dispatching EMS Station 90 for unknown medical emergency, female patient with foot pain. Ambulance 91 is due at 2040 hours.”

That’s your scenario as it cracks through the Minitor.

“Foot pain?” You ask yourself.

Really? Someone actually called 9-1-1 to request an ambulance for foot pain?

We all know it happens all the time. While our 9-1-1 system in America is fast and responsive and relatively user-friendly, sometimes it’s just a bit too convenient to activate the EMS system because it’s just easier to call an ambulance than it is to call a taxi.

We talk a lot in this space about how frustrating it is to run a call only to find that later we can’t be reimbursed because our patient is determined to not be medically necessary. So instead of whining over the latest change in payment policy or impending audits, why not get out in front of this thing by making strides to educate the public and share some of our concerns?

You Call, We Haul

So with a large part of the public somehow in the mindset that we are the “You call, we haul” bunch, there’s no time like today to start attempting to turn the tide.

A few weeks ago in this space, we suggested that one of the ways to try to limit the number of non-medically necessary transports we incur is to provide education to the public.

So, since we gave you a suggestion now it’s time to help you think about ways you can educate your community about when it’s appropriate and when maybe it’s not appropriate to activate the EMS system while providing an explanation about what to expect after the call.

Along the way, we also need to get the word out to public officials about the big ticket items that are negatively impacting the effectiveness of EMS in your community.

Think Out of the Box

It’s time to think out of the box.

Ask yourself…

“Who, in my community, can I reach with the EMS message with the goal of enlightening the community about who we are and what we do? Where can I meet face-to-face with our communities to begin to turn the tide?”

We’ve got a few suggestions.

Engage Public Officials

It’s time to take a meeting!

Do you want to understand why Congress makes the healthcare decisions it does? Well the best person to help you understand those decisions is a member of Congress.

Go right to the source!

First you’ll need to make an appointment. Call. Write. Request a sit-down with any local official you can think of that makes decisions about a wide-range of issues affecting your EMS department.

For example, maybe you can meet with your representative in Congress or ever an elected official in State government. You may or may not be able to actually meet directly with the representative; however a staff member may be equally as influential and may have more time to focus on your suggestions and requests, later to speak into the ear of his boss when it comes time to influence pending EMS-related legislation.

On the local level, take time to meet with County officials who may have influence over dispatch protocols at the 9-1-1 center. Meet with your city’s Mayor so he/she has an understanding of the hurdles your department faces for funding, protocols, staffing, etc.

Most importantly, when meeting with these important persons be sure you have an agenda. Know your talking points well and prepare and rehearse them before the meeting. Carve out one-half hour, maybe an hour and make sure you’re finished with that time-frame. No public official has time for a three-hour meeting unless it’s a very serious, focused issue.

You’ll win more respect from your elected representative if you convey that you respect his/her precious, limited time than you will be boring him/her with irrelevant rambling.

Oh and be sure to follow-up with a thank-you note!

Step into the Community

The next step is to find places and opportunities to educate the citizens of your community. That means you have to leave the station and go to where the people are.

Now we know that you’re busy and some days are crazy. But, if we want to get the word out to the public to shift the tide, we have to teach them what we want them to know. That means we have to go to them this time.

Most people have no clue what EMS really is or what we do. So let’s tell them.

Think about all the places we can make community education happen.

Senior Centers

In our community, I can think of opportunities to visit the local Senior Citizen Center. Since a large volume of our incidents involve older citizens, then requesting time to speak to those seniors in the place where a large majority of them gather each day is a perfect opportunity.

Service Organizations

Other great places to visit are service clubs like Rotary, Kiwanis, the Lions Club where you not only engage with the community but specifically will get the message out to key business leaders who may be influential in a number of other ways to help your department.

Why not request to present at the next Chamber of Commerce function, too?

Faith-based Groups

Chances are local houses of worship have groups that meet for fellowship.
After their Bible study, the Tuesday morning ladies’ group of First Church of Christ may just enjoy hearing a short talk about EMS in their community (and I’ll bet they’ll feed you some goodies too!)

Short and to the Point

Prepare a 20- to 30-minute talk about when it’s appropriate to call 9-1-1 and when it isn’t. Help your audience understand that activating EMS for a “ride to the hospital” sans a true medical emergency can not only deprive your community of an emergency resource better spent on someone that truly may be suffering a severe medical emergency or trauma, but it may also entail their receiving a bill for your services that their Medicare or Medicaid coverage may not pay.

Of course we never want to scare someone out of calling 9-1-1, but then again they need to understand the ramifications surrounding abuse of the EMS system. Better to educate them now than to stress them when they call the billing office to moan over their inability to make payment to satisfy the bill they’ve just received.

Oh, and to get their attention, why not stick around for a while and take their blood pressure or maybe do a few finger sticks to check some glucose levels, while you’re at it.

Key Points

Here are some suggestions for an agenda when finally preparing what you’re going to say…

  • Define what a true life-threatening emergency is
  • Explain that your department has limited resources (vehicles and personnel) and may not be available to respond if tied-up on a less-than-emergent transport
  • Spend some time explaining how Medicare and Medicaid pay for your services.
    • Drive home the fact that these payers will probably not consider a patient to be medically necessary for payment of the claim when the patient “Can be transported safely in any other vehicle other than an ambulance.”
  • Briefly explain your billing policies to eliminate the “shock” of receiving a bill for EMS
  • Have some equipment available for demonstration before and after your little talk
    • Such items like heart monitors, stretchers, open jump kits and take someone along to explain and to field questions about how much all of these fancy gadgets cost (ie. indirectly explaining why we have to bill for services.)
    • Allow a time for Q and A (but be prepared, if necessary you may need to deflect someone’s specific complaint or pet peeve- it happens, you can handle it!)

Your Turn

We’ve provided the framework. Now it’s your turn to make this happen for your community.

If public speaking isn’t your thing, pick someone in your organization that’s good at it and empower them to represent your department. You’d be surprised what a morale booster it can be for staff to be visible in your community beyond just running calls.

Your billing company can help. We’ll be glad to give you some pointers and provide you with information to help you put together handouts to leave behind after your talk. Check out some of our blogs from the past for useful information you can use when educating about billing and medical necessity topics.

Call us if we can be of assistance.

Current clients can get helpful hints from our friendly Client Services staff. Just reach out to them using your “Live Chat” button, e-mail us, or call anytime.

If you’re department isn’t a client then we want to talk to. We’re waiting for you to call or e-mail.

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