In Ontario, Paramedics linking with ER docs could mean treatment at home

When Simcoe County Paramedic Services director Andrew Robert looks at your living room, he can see a virtual emergency room.

And under the advice from the Sunnybrook Centre for Prehospital Medicine’s Dr. Paul Hoogeveen, the county’s head paramedic is asking for $1.2 million in start-up funding for a new, alternate pathway program, along with ongoing funds of $263,557 per year.

Thanks to technology, paramedics can connect with emergency room physicians to assess, and sometimes treat, patients right where they are, he said, which will save time, enable paramedics to go to other calls and reduce demand in hospital emergency rooms.

“The Ontario Telemedicine Network is like FaceTime on steroids. You can use a device to link up to a digital stethoscope,” said Robert.

“You’re dizzy and not feeling well and you call 911. We’d do an assessment. Maybe you’d fit the protocol to be assessed at home. The doctor in emerg would hear your breath sounds and heart sounds. We even have an audioscope (to look in your ears).”

Those devices enable the doctor to determine you have an ear infection, so the paramedic creates a script for medicine, as determined by the doctor, and sends it directly to the pharmacy, he said as he described a scenario that could become more and more common as the baby boom generation ages.

“It all takes half the time of taking you to the hospital. It’s a more efficient way of dealing with 911 calls,” said Robert.

“We’re hoping for funding. It’s in alignment with the (province’s) Patients First plan for Ontario, the right care for the right patient at the right time.”

Robert said some people call 911 for help because they don’t have a family doctor or struggle with transportation challenges. This program would not only get them the help they need quicker, it would be less disruptive and avoid them to have to get home after a time-consuming hospital visit.

“It’s not being done in Ontario right now, so we’d like to do a pilot program,” he added, with the $1.2 million being invested in staff training and additional equipment, such as that for blood testing.

Should it receive Ministry of Health and Long-term Care financial support, the pilot program would train 20 front-line paramedics, who would work in five, as-yet unidentified communities in the county.

“We’re looking at more opportunities to be efficient with resources by helping and managing people in their homes. We call it the ‘silver tsunami’. People age 65 and older use us more than those who are younger,” said Robert.

“As the baby boomers (age), it’s impacting health care.”


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