LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles City Fire Department (LAFD) this week launched a new telemedicine program at its emergency dispatch center using specially trained physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants to screen potential COVID-19 patients and other individuals calling 911 with non-life-threatening issues.
The new LAFD Telemedicine Program (LTP) has been in development for more than two years and its rollout was accelerated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The goals of the LTP are to enhance patient care, decrease the dispatching of ambulances to low-acuity patients who can safely self-monitor and treat themselves at home while simultaneously decreasing the exposure of our firefighters and paramedics to potential COVID-19 patients. The LTP enables highly-trained healthcare professionals to evaluate patients remotely using smartphone technology, which also reduces potential crowding at local emergency rooms with patients who do not need hospital treatment.
“I am proud that with the help of our partners in the Mayor’s Office of Innovation and the County’s Department of Health Services, the LAFD was able to accelerate this new program so that we have another tool to fight the COVID-19 crisis,” said LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas.
“Our first responders are acting with courage and ingenuity in the face of the COVID-19 crisis,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti. “This pilot will help us respond more effectively — by lifting unnecessary burdens from medical professionals, and ensuring that the most urgent calls for assistance are handled with immediacy that we know can save lives.”
To activate the LAFD Telemedicine Program, an LAFD dispatcher screens all 911 medical callers using the Los Angeles Tiered Dispatch System protocols. If, during the initial interview of the 911 caller, the patient falls into a non-urgent category, is between the ages of two and 65, and has access to a smartphone, the dispatcher may refer them to a Telemedicine Provider.
Once the Telemedicine Provider has the call, a more in-depth screening is conducted and a video connection is established via smartphone. As the face-to-face screening proceeds, the Telemedicine Provider at the dispatch center can take a number of actions to resolve the call.
These include everything from providing stay-at-home monitoring and treatment advice to sending a pre-paid taxi or dispatching an LAFD ambulance to transport the patient to a local ER, depending on the level of need.
“The LTP is another example of the LAFD incorporating technology and innovation to provide a more efficient and effective EMS delivery system to Angelenos, especially during this pandemic,” said LAFD Medical Director and EMS Bureau Commander Dr. Marc Eckstein.