Sacramento Fire Department deploys new ‘telehealth’ technology to expedite care, free up resources

The Sacramento Fire Department has launched a new pilot program that uses “telehealth” technology to immediately connect people with a live doctor, thus helping patients receive expedited medical care and potentially freeing up resources for other emergencies.

The program, called Tele911, utilizes a network of California emergency department physicians who can be contacted 24/7 for a video medical consultation for patients served by SFD.

These doctors evaluate patients in real time while crews are on scene and advise if treatment in place is the preferred option or if the patient needs to be transported to the hospital in an ambulance.

“This program helps the Sacramento Fire Department make the best decisions possible when responding to low-acuity and non-life-threatening medical calls,” said Sacramento Fire Capt. Justin Sylvia.

Some patients, depending on their condition, can be treated in place or served by an urgent care facility if directed by a doctor, Sylvia said. Not having to transport the patient to the hospital frees up ambulances and staff so they are available for more critical calls. It also provides relief to crowded hospitals.

In other situations, patients do not want to go to the emergency room when they need to, Sylvia said. A doctor’s consultation can help convince people that their condition requires treatment in a hospital.

The Sacramento Fire Department began using Tele911 at three of its stations earlier this month.

Under the program, Sac Fire personnel responding to a medical call first evaluate a patient’s symptoms. If it appears to be a low-acuity call, the paramedic can use a tablet to initiate a live video consultation with an emergency department physician using the Tele911 app. The paramedic assists the physician in obtaining information and interacting with the patient. Afterward, the doctor recommends treatment.

“Tele911 recently was used to serve a patient that needed a medication refill,” Sylvia said. “The conversation with the doctor avoided unnecessary transportation to a hospital and kept an ambulance free for other calls for service. The total time to connect with the doctor and get their professional guidance took less than six minutes.”

As part of the program, Tele911 staff provide next-day calls to patients to check their status and see if they require any additional support.

Patients maintain the right not to use the Tele911 service and can request to go to the emergency room, Sylvia said.

The Tele911 currently is being used by other departments in California, including the Cosumnes Fire Department.