Pharmacist teams up with paramedics to prevent overuse of emergency services

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Reinhartz is part of Florida’s Manatee County Community Paramedicine program

If you can’t find Victoria Reinhartz, PharmD, on the campus of Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, where she is an assistant professor of pharmacy practice, chances are she’s in an emergency response vehicle on her way to see patients in their homes. Reinhartz is part of the Manatee County Community Paramedicine program, working alongside paramedics to keep patients out of ambulances and hospitals. The program is improving lives, saving money, and changing the way people think about pharmacists’ role in health care delivery.

Manatee County, FL, is designated as medically underserved and has a primary care physician shortage. “Even if our patients weren’t elderly, uninsured, homeless, or under the federal poverty level, we wouldn’t have enough physicians for them,” Reinhartz said.

Looking to ease the problem, Manatee obtained a grant to fund the Community Paramedicine program. The program targets patients in five categories: frequent falls, diabetes, mental health and substance abuse, chronic cardiovascular or respiratory diseases, and “high system utilizers”—those who frequently visit emergency departments and regularly call 911.

As a member of the Community Paramedicine team, Reinhartz accompanies paramedics to house calls and identifies medication-related issues that can lead to overuse of services. Reinhartz’s students also participate as part of an ambulatory care rotation.

“You don’t fully understand the barriers until you’re sitting in the living room and there’s mold on the ceiling, or it’s 94 degrees because the electricity got cut off. We have homeless patients at their tent sites [who] don’t take their medication because it’s too sedating, and if they pass out they get robbed,” Reinhartz said.

After several regular visits from the team, patients’ health can improve dramatically.

With the health care community increasingly recognizing the value of the program, “we’re expanding and hiring a third paramedic,” Reinhartz said. “We can hardly keep up. It’s a good sign.” In the first 13 months, the program saved $536,735 in prevented health care costs, said Reinhartz.

“I hear a lot of pharmacists and new graduates who are concerned about market saturation and if there will be jobs,” Reinhartz said. “Soon payment models are going to evaluate physician groups and hospitals on whether they are improving quality of care. The utilization of pharmacists and paramedics is an example of how they could do that.”

For the full article, please visit www.pharmacytoday.org for the December 2017 issue of Pharmacy Today.

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