ARLINGTON, Va. - Hospitals and emergency crews are stretched thin across the region, which has Arlington County turning to telehealth to help.
Paramedics will still respond to 911 calls, but the new pilot program will give patients with less serious emergencies the option of skipping the trip to the emergency room and seeing a doctor through a screen instead.
That doctor in conjunction with the EMT's on the scene will help treat the patient.
The county signed on for this pilot program in 2019 before COVID, and their original mission was to use this program for access to healthcare and equity. Arlington has hired a half-dozen medical professionals to staff the telehealth calls.
"It's like having an assistant that is helping that physician right there on the scene. It's different than the standard telehealth visit that we have now," explained Dr. Reed Smith, medical director for Arlington County Fire. "We have somebody there who can lay hands on you, listen to your lungs, do the actual blood pressure, administer medication, write down instructions for you, all of those things. That's why I feel like we have a fair amount of safety built in the system because we have providers there with you."
Not only do residents get access to care, but it's also more affordable for people since Arlington County will not bill patients directly for any balance that is owed.
"There are patients that we have been seeing that say I don't care that I have chest pains, I'm not going to the hospital because I'm afraid of getting COVID in the hospital, or people that are afraid to seek care for whatever that reason is," Dr. Reed said. "When it comes to COVID, there are a fair amount of people that are afraid to go to the hospital because they think they're going to get COVID there … We can bring the doctor to them, instead of having to take them to the doctor."