More than one dozen patients have accepted a ‘Ride to Care’ since the pilot program expanded to the Spokane Valley Fire Department service area eight weeks ago.
Ride to Care is an option firefighters can present to patients who call 911 with a less serious medical issue such as general weakness, illness, minor cuts, abrasions, leg or foot pain, or insect bites. The patient can choose a free ride to a designated urgent care center rather than incur the expense of an ambulance ride to the hospital.
By connecting the right patient to the right treatment at the right time with Ride to Care, the strain on the overall EMS system is reduced. This means valuable EMS resources including fire engines and ambulances are available for higher priority emergencies and reduces the number of patients with minor medical issues in emergency rooms who don’t need to be there, but don’t have transportation to get to an urgent care center.
Ride to Care is funded through the Spokane Neighborhood Action Program (SNAP) with grants and contributions from insurance companies and other private sources. It launched in the City of Spokane in January 2017 and expanded to the Spokane Valley Fire Department service area in August. Since the program’s overall inception, a total of 212 referrals have been given and 194 people have been transported to urgent care centers. The average number of referrals per day is .83.
When someone calls 911, the response from the fire department remains the same. Dispatchers get the information from the caller and choose a response based on the apparent severity of the medical problem: a single fire engine with no ambulance for the least serious calls, up to multiple fire engines and ambulances for a serious cardiac problem or stroke.
The change comes with the transportation offered to the patient by firefighters. A person with a less serious medical issue like a broken toe or general sickness, is offered an option to get a free ride to urgent care instead of the hospital. If the patient chooses urgent care, a SNAP-contracted vehicle will be sent to pick them up and later take them home, with a stop at the pharmacy if needed. The choice of going to an urgent care facility isn’t required, and anyone who wants to go to the hospital in an ambulance can still do so.
SNAP estimates the average patient will save $300 to $800 in health care costs by being taken to urgent care, rather than the emergency room. Data from the pilot program is being tracked to see if taking patients to urgent care reduces overall emergency room visits. Efforts are also underway to identify potential long-term funding sources for a permanent program.
Emergency medical service (EMS) incidents account for nearly 85% of Spokane Valley Fire Department responses each year.