Eagle County Paramedic Services joins federal program
The ’ET3’ program aims to offer care beyond a ride to the emergency room
This story has been corrected to reflect that all patients are eligible for the ET3 program.
The local ambulance district is set to join a federal pilot program that could reduce costs for some patients.
Eagle County Paramedic Services is a participant in a federal program called “ET3.” The acronym stands for “Emergency Triage, Treat and Transport.” The program’s intent is to give any patient options to avoid an ambulance ride to an emergency room. Those are expensive forms of care, for individuals, insurers and government agencies.
Kevin Creek, the district’s community health specialist, said the program will launch locally in March. Other ambulance services have launched the program in the first weeks of this year. The program is run by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Eagle County Paramedic Services is one of 15 agencies in Colorado, and about 200 nationwide, participating in the five-year pilot program. The local district is one of only a few rural districts in the program.
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When an ambulance crew responds to a patient call, depending on the level of care needed, some patients will have a few choices. Transportation to an emergency room — in this case, Vail Health Hospital — is always an option, and the patient can always request that transportation.
But Eagle County Paramedics has contracted with a “tele-health” firm, CarePoint Health. After paramedics assess the situation, if a patient believes that at-home care is a good option, a doctor can provide treatment that a paramedic help provide. A tele-health doctor can also prescribe medication.
A patient can also be taken to an urgent care facility. At the moment, the only 24-hour facility in the valley is at Centura Health in Avon.
Paramedics are also frequently called for behavioral health and drug issues. Creek said the system isn’t yet set up to transport patients to either detox or behavioral health facilities.
“We’re ultimately getting to that,” Creek said. “It’s coming.”
District co-CEO Amy Gnojek said the idea behind the program is to “benefit all involved,” adding that patients can receive more effective — and perhaps less expensive — care. Ambulance districts will benefit from fewer unneccesary transports. Taxpayers and insurance customers could also benefit.
In an email, district public information officer Katie Coakley noted that while the idea behind ET3 is to make care more effective, the ambulance district will still charge for calls. Out of pocket costs will depend on an individual’s insurance coverage. Medicare will cover an ambulance call to a home.
Those dispatch calls will all come to the district through 911 calls, Gnojek said.
And paramedics can decide if someone needs transport to a hospital.
“We’re going with the intent of taking someone to the (emergency room),” Coakley said on a conference call. Paramedics won’t call CarePoint until it’s determined that a patient is a “lower acuity” call.
Creek noted that the district tracks calls on a range of “alpha” to “delta.” The delta calls are the most urgent. Creek said paramedics are often called to what’s believed to be a lower-level call that becomes a higher-level call.
The program also doesn’t cover every call. Gnojek said perhaps 18 to 20% of all calls could be considered eligible for the ET3 program.
While program eligibility will be determined after a call, everything starts with that call to 911.
Medicare is a federal program, based primarily on age.
Medicaid is managed by states, and is based on income.