EMS social work: A new approach to serving low-acuity patients

By: EMS1 – Katherine Herrian

An EMS social worker describes how a new program in Texas is serving patients while decreasing 911 calls

North Texas fire/EMS agencies are embracing a new concept, namely social work in the out-of-hospital setting. By incorporating a full-time social worker employed by medical control, 11 Dallas-area fire-based EMS agencies now identify citizens in need of additional support in the community and make referrals directly to a social worker.

IDENTIFYING A NEED: SOCIAL WORK IN EMS

Four years ago, fire department leadership for the agencies that make up the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern/Parkland BioTel EMS System heard repeated concerns from their crews about the lack of options for citizens who have no or minor medical issues that do not require EMS transport to a hospital emergency department, but who nevertheless faced issues that paramedics in the field could not appropriately address. Frontline firefighter/paramedics wanted tangible solutions for the citizens they serve but weren’t sure where to start.

Following discussions with BioTel administrative leadership and the medical director, a collaborative effort was initiated to develop an innovative social work program designed to improve the quality life for individuals who frequently call 911 with non-medical needs. The hope was that the plan would have the added benefit of reducing 911 calls to these same patients for low-acuity medical complaints.

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