Telehealth helped dispense Houston's resources after Hurricane Harvey

An established telehealth program in Houston helped emergency services departments distribute ambulances in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, StateScoop reports.

In the aftermath of Harvey — the Category 4 storm former HHS Secretary Tom Price, MD, declared a public health emergency in Texas and Louisiana in August — Houston's Emergency TeleHealth and Navigation program helped first responders ration ambulances and medical personnel among residents in need of medical attention.

ETHAN, a telehealth program Houston launched in 2014, aims to reduce unnecessary ambulance dispatches. Under the program, first responders use tablets to connect 911 callers who are eligible for ETHAN with a physician via video. The physician determines whether the patient needs an ambulance dispatch or if the city can send a less costly alternative, such as a taxi.

The city partners with Yellow Cab for dispatches, since a taxi is often more efficient and less expensive for the patient. By moving non-emergency patients to alternative methods of transportation, the partnership also helps to ensure ambulances are available to respond to urgent situations.

"If we're using one of our scarcest resources and we tie them up for an hour, then you might have a neighbor, a friend, a family member who is two blocks away having a true medical emergency and that ambulance is not going to be ready for that patient because they're transporting someone else who needs them a lot less," Michael Gonzalez, MD, associate medical director at the Houston Fire Department, told StateScoop.

More articles on telehealth:
U of Mississippi Medical Center named 'telehealth center of excellence'
Teladoc updates mobile app after Best Doctors acquisition
Northwest Community Healthcare, Lurie Children's Hospital partner for pediatric emergency telemedicine

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