Paramedics provide patients with quality care in clinics
When the average person thinks of the term “paramedic” they will often think “9-1-1, ambulance, emergency.” But what we are often seeing are the roles of paramedics changing into something quite different.
Such is the case in Rainbow Lake, Alberta, where an integrated health model is allowing for residents to access quality health care services, even though they are 150 kilometres away from the nearest hospital.
`”We call them ‘clinical paramedics.’ Basically they work in a similar capacity to what the nurse practitioners do, within their scope of practice,” says Jason Gabriel, Manager of NW EMS Operations in the North/Edmonton Zone of Alberta Health Services.
Gabriel is referring to an innovative pilot project that has been implemented as part of the Health Integration process, which began in 2010 after EMS was absorbed into Alberta Health Services.
The program began, says Gabriel, out of a need to fill vacant nurse practitioner positions, as there has been a nursing shortage province-wide, but especially in the more remote areas.
“This project, which was derived out of an unforeseen NP vacancy, started off as an extension of the High Level Hospital Integration Project and has subsequently found its way into a more diverse stand alone project,” Gabriel says.
So Gabriel and his team with EMS in Northern Alberta were approached and asked if perhaps paramedics with Advanced Life Support training may be able to fill the role within the community.
Dubbed the Rainbow Lake Health Centre Pilot Project, while still being developed, it has already been able to provide advanced roles within the clinical setting including emergency care, suturing, patient appointments, lab work, follow up care and many other traditional nurse practitioner roles, says Gabriel.
Paramedics in this role work in the clinic, and if and when a patient presents with a situation that is within their scope but may need additional support, the paramedic is able to dial in a physician via Telehealth, who is physically located at the hospital 150 kilometres away.
Telehealth allows video conferencing with the physician whereby the paramedic can show the clinical presentation and ask questions, and treat the patient there and then.
“They’re basically working as an extension of the physician in the off-site area,” Gabriel says.
The program started in 2010 with other health integration projects across the north. It was initially at the High Level hospital, and then expanded to two nursing clinics and another hospital. In the footprint around the Rainbow Lake area, there are health integration projects in two hospitals, and the Rainbow Lake Nursing Centre and the LeCrete Ambulatory Care Centre (an urgent care centre).
Without the program being run out the Rainbow Lake centre, patients would have to either wait until it was the day for the physician to come into town, or they would have to drive to neighbouring High Level for services.
With an ALS paramedic available on-site, patients can receive the care they need when they need it.
This is but one example of innovation in the community paramedicine sector whereby paramedics are working in non-traditional roles and being able to practice within their scope.
About TelehealthTelehealth is a tool that allows Albertans, regardless of location, to have access to needed medical professionals and specialists.
The scope of programs that utilize Telehealth includes sectors such as adolescent psychiatry, smoking cessation, cardiology, chronic disease management, and of course, rural health.
The technology allows health care providers to examine patients through the use of videoconferencing and specialized medical equipment as well as direct consultation with other health professionals.
The network in Alberta includes over 900 sites across the province, including several that offer tele-ultrasound and radiology services.