Houston to hire nurses as ER alternative for non-urgent care

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In 2006 Harris County, which includes Houston, spent $50 million on emergency room care for patients with problems that could have been treated in a doctor’s office, according to the Houston Chronicle. The city wants to hire “tele-nurses” to work with 911 dispatchers offering first aid advice or help getting an appointment for care with a doctor or clinic for callers who do not have a true emergency. The Director of Emergency Medical Services says that many patients call 911 because they have no insurance, no transportation to the hospital or they have insurance but can’t get after hours care or cannot judge how serious a problem may be. “The whole idea is to educate people, help them get self-care when appropriate,” according to the Executive Director of the Harris County Health Alliance. “It’s just about getting these folks to connect to what we call a ‘medical home,’ a regular source of care.” Ambulance rides cost $415 each plus $7.50 per mile and ambulances responding to non-urgent problems take vital resources away from true emergencies. Richmond, VA has a similar program.
Ellen Andrews