The idea of having a PA work in the field has been around for a while. This is from JAAPA in 2005:
Fast track in the field: Another option to ease ED overcrowding
Emergency department (ED) overcrowding is becoming a serious problem in the nation’s hospitals. Many are forced to go on ambulance diversion status because of a shortage of bed space, clinicians, or resources needed to take care of patients. Patients who seek care in the ED often require ED evaluation and are there appropriately. There is, however, a subset of patients who use the ED for conditions that are neither emergent nor, at times, even urgent. Many of these patients do not have access to a primary care provider, or they live in communities lacking adequate free medical resources for the uninsured or underinsured, so the ED becomes their only choice. One option that meets the needs of patients, hospitals, and emergency medical services (EMS) providers is to create a system by which these patients are seen outside of the ED yet receive the same high-quality care from the same providers that they would in an ED setting.
Fast track in the field
The EMS community is advocating for advanced training for paramedics to perform these functions. But, why not use PAs in emergency medicine to fill this void? They already have the requisite skills and experience, and they could rotate between working in the field and in their home EDs.
Many PAs in emergency medicine started their careers in medicine as paramedics and would welcome the opportunity to use their new skills outside the ED setting. I have spoken about this concept with a number of my PA colleagues who previously worked in EMS. The consensus was that they would enjoy the opportunity to return to the field and be able to concentrate on a single patient at a time instead of the six to eight patients that are followed at one time in the typical ED setting. Some unpleasant aspects of being a paramedic would be absent from this system, such as carrying heavy patients down multiple flights of stairs and being awakened in the middle of the night for low acuity cases. These are among the chief reasons many PAs leave EMS to go to PA school.
This system would also benefit EMS because they would no longer have to transport patients with minor complaints to the ED. The large number of nonemergent 911 calls has been a significant cause of burnout and frustration among EMS personnel. The system I am proposing would allow paramedics to focus on what they do best—treating truly emergent patients in the field setting.
How would it work?
The concept would initially utilize a trial ambulance team of one PA and one basic EMT/driver and would be staffed only during the busiest hours of the day. The team would not respond directly to 911 calls but would be summoned after an initial decision by paramedics that the patient was nonemergent and met criteria for field treatment and release. The criteria might involve such complaints as minor lacerations, upper respiratory infections in otherwise healthy persons, prescription refills for noncontrolled medications, ingrown toenails, and so forth. EMS and members of the field group would agree on these criteria in advance. The ambulance company could still bill for a home response and any supplies used, while the hospital ED could bill for the PA’s time and any hospital supplies (such as suture sets) used in treatment.
If a single unit saw a patient every 30 minutes for 8 hours, 16 fewer patients would arrive at the ED and 16 more emergent ambulance calls could be made. Some patients might initially be thought to be appropriate for field treatment and later be found by the PA to need further evaluation. These patients could then be transported nonemergently to the local ED by the PA unit and checked in there in the same fashion as a typical walk-in patient. A busy area could use more than one unit or staff it for more hours daily.
This system would be practical only in a busy metropolitan area where ED overcrowding and a strained 911-response system are daily issues. While using PAs in the field in other settings is an option, there would be no clear benefit to local hospitals or emergency services through such utilization.
Patients would also benefit from such a system. Currently, patients with low-acuity complaints face long waits in EDs, sometimes as long as 4 to 6 hours or more. Field treatment would allow rapid evaluation and treatment of their minor injuries and illnesses, greatly increasing patient satisfaction. Follow-up visits would be done by the same “city call” physicians who see unassigned ED patients after their discharge from the hospital. The patients could also be given a list of local resources, such as primary care providers in the community and social workers who can arrange for federal or state health coverage.
Benefits on many levels
In this system, there would be no decrease in revenue to either the hospital or the EMS company. Members of the team would be paid by their normal employers at their normal rate of pay. No changes would need to be made to the configuration of the ambulances used. The PA could simply carry a tackle box with supplies and a few noncontrolled medications, such as antibiotics. All the pieces are in place for this to work, with very little preparation time involved. The staffing already exists. Oversight would continue per current practices. The supervising physicians of the ED PAs would review the PAs’ field documentation in addition to their regular ED charts. The PAs’ malpractice policy from the hospital would be amended to include work in the field. Hospital EDs would be able to allocate their resources more appropriately to evaluate sicker patients in a shorter amount of time.
This is only the outline of a concept. I hope that this model can be tested in busy urban areas to determine its effectiveness at decreasing ED wait times and improving service to those in need of medical care.