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Physicians sent to rural areas for emergencies

Dr. P.S. Martin, director of the West Virginia University School of Medicine’s Division of Prehospital Medicine and associate professor of emergency medicine, stands next to the specialized quick-response vehicle for physicians to respond to emergencies in the field. (Photo Provided)

MORGANTOWN — A new pilot project launched by the West Virginia University School of Medicine in and DTE Energy Foundation will deploy physicians to respond to emergencies in rural areas of West Virginia, improving access to and quality of emergency care to save lives statewide.

The DTE Energy Foundation awarded a $300,000 grant to the Department of Emergency Medicine’s Division of Prehospital Medicine to establish West Virginia’s first emergency medical services physician response program, which launched this month in Marion and Tucker counties.

Through this program, a physician-led team will collaboratively work with existing EMS resources to provide emergency medical treatment previously unavailable prior to arriving at hospitals. Treatments include diagnostic ultrasounds, medication and video-assisted intubations to secure patients’ airways, administration of blood products, procedural sedations and life-saving field amputations, among others.

“West Virginia’s rural setting makes our state a perfect place for this kind of program,” said Dr. P.S. Martin, director of the Division of Prehospital Medicine and an associate professor of emergency medicine. “Having a physician on scene to direct or perform critical interventions can improve healthcare outcomes in areas where transport to the nearest advanced care facility may take hours. We can make a big difference by being out in these communities.”

Participating physicians will respond to emergencies as requested by county 911 operators and EMS agencies in a custom quick-response vehicle funded by the DTE Foundation and equipped with specialized equipment. The idea of bringing the emergency room to patients, while simultaneously enhancing medical training for physicians and other health professionals, is what inspired the DTE Energy Foundation to invest in the program.

“The DTE Foundation has a long history of working hand in hand with local leaders to improve the quality of life of residents in our communities,” said Lynette Dowler, president of the DTE Foundation. “This grant, which will deliver leading-edge medical care to West Virginians in rural areas, is an opportunity for us to give back to the Mountain State, home to DTE Energy’s Midstream pipeline business, and for us to live our commitment to be a force for growth in the communities where we live and serve. We look forward to our continued partnership with West Virginia University, and to the positive, lasting impact this program will have on communities statewide.”

The program launched in Marion and Tucker counties thanks to support from local EMS officials and HealthNet Aeromedical Services, which assisted with securing, equipping and providing space for the inaugural vehicle.

Travel time for providers is about an hour to travel from a rural area to the nearest hospital in an emergency situation, Tucker County EMS Chief Sheila Marsh said.

“Once we get the program up and running, it’s going to be great,” Marsh said. “It’s going to be a big asset for the counties. It will give a lot higher quality of care to the serious patients who need it.”

The School of Medicine will gradually expand the program to rural communities statewide as it grows and additional resources become available. The program will also track data including response times, cardiac arrest outcomes, intubation success rates, unnecessary transports avoided and EMS feedback to evaluate its success and contribute to WVU research on prehospital medicine.

In addition to enhancing patient care and research, the program will also provide important learning opportunities for health sciences students, emergency medicine residents and physicians participating in an intensive one-year EMS fellowship tentatively slated to welcome its first class in 2021, accepting two fellows per year. The fellowship, which will be submitted for review by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, will prepare physicians who have completed their emergency medicine residency for EMS subspecialty certification.

“The EMS Fellowship will train a new generation of physicians to help direct and guide the future evolution of West Virginia’s emergency medical services,” said Martin.

“Physicians will learn how to work alongside EMS providers, caring for patients and augmenting EMS care only when necessary. These fellows will eventually become experts on rural prehospital/interhospital care, EMS medical direction, quality management, policy and protocol development, and state/government regulation and research, helping to improve the lives and care of West Virginians.”

Martin said the educational component of the EMS physician response program will help produce highly trained physicians with valuable skills derived from field experience, ultimately enhancing future prehospital patient care in West Virginia and beyond.

The DTE Energy Foundation grant was awarded through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University.

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