Company offers urgent care house calls in Oklahoma City area
Oklahoma City — DispatchHealth is expanding its mobile urgent care business into the Oklahoma City area, and Blue Cross Blue Shield is encouraging patients to give it a try.
Patients who think they have a problem that needs quick attention, but isn't serious enough to merit an emergency room visit, can call to request a visit. An emergency medical technician in a call center will go through a series of questions to determine if a mobile team can meet a patient's needs, said Andrea Pearson, chief marketing officer for DispatchHealth. Typically, about 8 percent of patients have a problem that needs emergency room treatment, she said.
A two-person team tries to arrive in about one hour, though it can vary depending on how busy the day is and how far they have to drive from the last visit, Pearson said. Most visits take about an hour, though that depends on the complexity of the problem, she said.
DispatchHealth has two full-time teams and one part-time crew covering an area from north Edmond to Moore and Midwest City to Yukon. Services are available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
What qualifies for a visit?
The screening process identifies patients who are at high risk of a heart attack, stroke, gastrointestinal bleeding or other time-critical problems, said Dr. Phil Mitchell, an emergency physician and vice president of medical affairs at DispatchHealth. They ask about a patient's symptoms, age and medical history to figure out risk, he said.
“It's all about making sure we're the right group” to treat a patient, he said.
Could they treat a patient having an asthma attack? So long as the patient wasn't so short of breath as to be in danger, Mitchell said.
Someone bitten by dog? They typically treat at least one case a week.
A person with a severe headache? The screeners would have to establish that it wasn't caused by an emergency like a stroke or meningitis, but otherwise, yes.
The most common issues are upper respiratory problems, including the flu; gastrointestinal distress; dehydration; urinary tract infections; and falls by senior citizens, Mitchell said.
Angie Grimmett, a nurse practitioner, said she and her partner, an emergency medical technician, can do nebulizer treatments, give patients antibiotics or fluids through an intravenous line, do an electrocardiogram or x-ray, replace a catheter or feeding tube, stitch small wounds, and take blood or urine samples for testing. They also have a small supply of medications to get the patients through until they can get to a pharmacy, but don't carry controlled substances like opioids, she said.
They also use their time in patients' homes to look for safety hazards and about any economic or social problems, such as whether they're having trouble affording medications or are being abused, Grimmett said. That information then goes into a report about the visit for the patient's primary care provider, along with the results of any tests, she said.
Offering care during off-hours
The goal isn't to replace primary care, but to supplement it during off-hours or if a patient needs a service not offered in the office, Mitchell said. Sometimes, primary care providers, who are dealing with a backlog of patients on a certain day, will call with referrals, he said.
Grimmett said she and her partner always take two kits the size of medium suitcases filled with common medical supplies. They also have briefcase-sized kits that they take only when needed — for example, a gastrointestinal kit for a patient who's been vomiting and a respiratory kit for one with asthma, she said.
“For any body system, we have a kit for it,” she said.
They also have access to an on-call doctor in case anything unexpected comes up, and are trained to call 911 and stay with the patient if the problem could be life-threatening, Grimmett said.
After the visit, someone calls the patient to follow up in three, 14 and 30 days, Pearson said. During those calls, they document whether the patient is improving, and whether he or she ended up needing a higher level of care, she said.
Catherine Divis, spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma, said customers who use DispatchHealth will only have to pay the co-pay their plan charges for a visit to an urgent care center. They also could have to pay for any supplies and medications used if they haven't met their deductible for the year. She estimated about 23,000 customers used an urgent care center last year.
“We'd like to have our members use it as much as possible and have it branch out to other areas of the state,” she said.
DispatchHealth also bills Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare. The cost is $275 for people paying cash.