Friday, February 13, 2004

Think before dialing 911

Free ride to hospital no sure thing

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati emergency medical workers will follow a new policy starting Sunday that allows them to refuse to take patients with certain minor medical conditions to hospitals.

The policy comes in response to concerns that too many ambulance runs are unnecessary.

Crews may decline to transport patients who call 911 complaining of ear pain, toothaches, medicine refills and nosebleeds, according to the policy.

Other conditions no longer requiring transportation include patients with minor soft-tissue injuries and diabetics with low blood sugar.

Firefighters, after screening the patient to make sure nothing serious is wrong, can suggest other ways to get help, including using a taxi cab, calling a private ambulance company or riding the bus.

The policy will be in effect for two months.

Statistics gathered from runs during the 60 days will be evaluated by City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee.

The committee ordered fire officials last year to develop a plan to reduce the number of unnecessary ambulance runs.

Of the more than 72,000 calls to 911 for fire department help in 2002, more than 70 percent were for medical problems. The department does not track how many of those turned out to be unnecessary.

Ambulances were unavailable 642 times in 2002.

Joe Arnold, president of the firefighters union, said the new policy might not reduce the number of runs.

"It's the medical director's license on the line,'' he said, "and he doesn't want somebody left at home who should've gone to the hospital.''

The new guidelines also specify when patients must be transported. Those include people with chest pain, shortness of breath, headaches, first-time seizures and anyone under 18.

Firefighters also may not decline transport for neurological deficits, loss of consciousness, abdominal pain, fainting; hemorrhages, overdoses, suicide attempts, intoxication, and abuse or neglect of an adult or a child.

Firefighters also must transport if, in the crew's judgment, the patient needs hospital care.


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