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Santa Monica paramedics may soon decide if you need to go to ER

June 4, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
When a paramedic responds to a call, they're required to take patients to the emergency room, even if their condition doesn't necessarily warrant that level of care. But there's a new proposal to change that in Santa Monica.

Santa Monica paramedics may soon be empowered to make medical judgments out in the field.

When 87-year-old Ada Taylor called 911, she had no idea she'd be in for a long wait. This part of a paramedic's job is called "wall time" because that's where they wait.

"It really impacts our service," said Santa Monica Fire Capt. Michael McElvaney. "We could have up to two or three, sometimes four units waiting for a bed, which depletes our resources in town."

To make things more efficient, the Santa Monica Fire Department and Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center are taking a preliminary look at changing how residents receive care. It will be part of a pilot study called Community Emergency Medical Service.

"The concept will be basically to allow a paramedic/EMT to make a decision in the field," said Dr. Wally Ghurabi, medical director of the Emergency Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center.

Rescuers may decide a patient doesn't need an emergency room at all, maybe an urgent care or a trip to the doctor's office instead.

Whether you've bumped your head or sprained your ankle and you call 911, California law dictates that first responders take you to an emergency room. That adds to ER overcrowding.

But not everyone feels comfortable with paramedics and emergency medical technicians making that call.

"These are issues that would automatically go to ERs. We are dealing with minor stuff," said Ghurabi.

How the Santa Monica program will be implemented is still in discussions and while residents aren't completely comfortable, they'd like to see healthcare dollars being spent more responsibly.