Does ambulance transport to urgent care as an alternative to the emergency room make sense?

Canada’s CBC News recently published an article on a pilot program launching December 15 that will allow ambulances responding to patients with non-life-threatening injuries to transport them to Winnipeg’s Misericordia Urgent Care Centre instead of the emergency room.

According to Lori Lamont, vice president and chief nursing officer for the Winnepeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA), “only patients in stable condition, those with non-life-threatening conditions who don’t need to be admitted to the hospital, will be taken to the care facility.”

The goal of the new program is to reduce wait times for patients and off-loading times for paramedics, who are required to wait at the hospital until the patient has seen a doctor – well after the triage process. Through this new program, patients in stable condition will be taken to the triage desk of the urgent care center, and the paramedics will be able to get back onto the street once the patient has been triaged.

This pilot program illustrates the great strides Canada has made in urgent care, as emergency respondents are now able to triage non-emergency cases in the ambulance and transport patients to the facility that best suits their medical needs. According to Lamont, this is a win-win situation for both the healthcare providers and patients because it “…will lessen demands on … emergency departments for stable patients who previously waited in emergency at the end of the triage scale and also for the paramedics who bring them in.”

With emergency department visits in the United States costing three times more than urgent care center visits, it seems the U.S. healthcare system could takes some notes from Canada, for a similar program implemented in the U.S. could potentially save the already overburdened healthcare system hundreds of millions (if not billions) of dollars.