NY FD debuts telemedicine app 'bringing the ER' into homes
Schenectady firefighter-paramedics armed with iPads will screen patients and then connect them to doctors to determine the best course of treatment
Times Union, Albany, N.Y.
SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — In many cases, a person with an injury that's not serious or life-threatening does not need to wait in a hospital emergency room for what sometimes seems like an eternity to see a doctor.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said during a news conference Monday outside Fire Station #1 the goal of a new telemedicine program, touted by fire officials as one of the first of its kind in the region, aims to get a person connected fast to the medical expert best suited to help them heal.
He said the program, which the city has been piloting for about a month, will also save the city and places like Ellis Medicine money during tight financial times brought on by the coronavirus crisis — though McCarthy noted it was still to early to determine an exact dollar amount.
"We're going to be able to triage them and get them to an appropriate level of service where it may not be the emergency room — it could be an urgent care center, it could be an appointment with their doctor the next day, it could be a diagnostic center and it could even be the emergency room but on a scheduled basis," he said. "We're refining the delivery of services."
That will require Schenectady Fire Department firefighter paramedics, armed with iPads, to do the initial screening before connecting the patient with a doctor who will decide the best course of medical treatment.
The software is currently available on Rescue One at Station #1, Engine Two at Station #2, and Engine Four at Station #4.
Michael Bibighaus, a doctor with United Concierge Medicine/UCM Digital Health, said that 30 of the 42 patients that have so far participated in the program were treated at home.
He said a patient is typically connected to a doctor in less than five minutes.
"The thing is we're not just interested in keeping patients at home, we want the patients to get the right care that they need," added Bibighaus, chief medical officer and one of the founders of Troy-based UCM.
He said UCM also has been helping to arrange COVID-19 testing and the his group also follow ups with the patient to see how they're doing.
For people with an aversion to hospitals, the paramedics can also link them with the doctor to reinforce that, for example, that chest pain may require a trip to the ER because it could lead to a more serious condition, said Bibighaus.
Augusta Martin with MVP Health Care said telemedicine programs like Schenectady's are more crucial now than ever, especially to elderly people or other individuals with chronic health problems who may be homebound because of COVID-19 but still need to see their physician.
Assistant Fire Chief Don Mareno said the Electric City "is bringing the ER into your room" because doctors like Bibighaus are the same professionals providing the same treatment who would wait on you at the hospital emergency room.
He credited the department's EMS Capt. Stan Wilgocki for being instrumental in implementing the program.
During a demonstration Monday, Nate Kuhl, one of the department's 115 firefighter paramedics, said that for the most part people have been receptive to the telemedicine model, especially younger patients who are up on technology. Kuhl said it may take some explaining before older people warm up to the idea.
Paul Milton, CEO of Ellis Medicine, said it's incumbent on medical officials to be "creative and innovative and do the things that are right."
"For everybody who comes into the ER, there may be much better places to take care of them in the community with the resources we have and using technology in the way that we can," he said.
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