Paramedics could soon take on bigger role in health care

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on August 14, 2012
20120814 Matt Crossman, paramedic
Guardian photo

Paramedics in P.E.I. could soon be performing triage in P.E.I. hospitals and administering treatment to seniors in nursing homes.

Preliminary discussions have begun between provincial health officials and Island EMS to look at broadening the role of paramedics in the P.E.I. health system and potentially allowing them to perform more health care treatment outside of ambulances.

Health Minister Doug Currie recently toured health facilities in Nova Scotia, including the QE II emergency room in Halifax where he witnessed paramedics performing triage and other duties in hospital.

He was excited by this as a potential avenue to address physician and nursing shortages plaguing P.E.I.’s health system.

“I think there’s a tremendous opportunity there,” Currie said in an interview.

Matt Crossman of Island EMS said his organization is pitching several different models of care for paramedics to Currie and Health P.E.I. that are being practised in other jurisdictions. These would see paramedics taking on a more enhanced role in treating patients.

One of the models they presented included the paramedic working in hospital, performing triage and such duties as casting and suturing.

Another model would see paramedics travelling to nursing homes and treating patients on site.

In Nova Scotia, this model has reduced the number of ambulance transports from nursing homes by 72 per cent.

“Those patients would have typically had to be taken to a facility, seen by a physician and transported back,” Crossman said.

“I don’t think people really realized we would be able to treat and release… There’s always been a sort of traditional model where (patients) have always seen the physician.”

He pointed out this change not only reduces strain on overcrowded waiting rooms and short-handed doctors and nursing staff. It also frees up ambulances at a time when ambulance usage is continuing to climb.

“We’ve been able to implement a really great program in Nova Scotia that’s been a big savings to the system, not just in ambulances but the health-care system,” Crossman said.

Both Currie and Crossman stressed discussions about any changes to the roles of P.E.I. paramedics are still very preliminary.

But Currie said government needs to look at new and innovative ways of providing health services if it is to remain sustainable into the future.

“On the other side of the Confederation Bridge, there are communities over there that are using models of various health professionals that provide various services and I think that it’s important for us to look at those models as part of the work we do to provide a quality health-care system,” Currie said.

Island EMS is now in the process of gathering data from other jurisdictions who offer enhanced paramedic services to find a model that could best fit P.E.I.’s health system. It will present these findings to government and to the various facility and system stakeholders.

Most paramedics are already trained to perform these enhanced medical treatments, but would be given a refresher course if any enhancements to their duties were made in P.E.I., Crossman added.

twright@theguardian.pe.ca