'Bike Paramedics' Cycle to Emergencies
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY, I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, a college professor teaches his students about the environment by taking them on a road trip. But first, two wheels may be better than four when responding to emergencies. Paramedics around the country are ditching ambulances for mountain bikes. Detroit Public Radio Celeste Headlee reports.
CELESTE HEADLEE: Over the past few years, bike EMT teams have begun to crop up around the country. Ambulance companies saw how effective police were on bikes and decided to experiment with medical teams as well. Healthcare lawyer Lori Ann Rickard(ph) says crowds of people present special challenges for paramedics.
Ms. LORI ANN RICKARD (Lawyer): You think about in a crowded area how hard it is to get ambulance truck through all those people, but very easy to get a bike through. So sometimes it's a couple minutes, but sometimes a bike can really make it much quicker, if you think about Superbowl and some of the other events.
HEADLEE: An ambulance company in Michigan launched its own bike EMT program this year, and Rickard says the results have been great. She says the bikes get to patients at least two minutes faster than ambulances. And sometimes that difference is lifesaving.
Ms. RICKARD: The blood loss in a child - you know, there are seconds to make a decision between life and death versus an adult who has a lot more blood. And so if you can get to a child quicker, you certainly can, you know, save lives.
HEADLEE: In fact, bicycle teams can respond to most types of emergency situations. They carry oxygen tanks, trauma gear, IV bags, all of the equipment you might see on a basic life support ambulance. Except a stretcher. So bicycle EMT's travel in pairs and carry patients out together on a large piece of cloth. Samantha Miller is the captain of the paramedic bike team for Alliance Mobile Health in Michigan.
Ms. SAMANTHA MILLER (Paramedic): The equipment is a little bit different than what we have to use, like for suction and stuff like that is a little more archaic. We don't have the automatic vacuums like we do in the ambulance, so it is a little different.
(Soundbite of radio transmission)
Unidentified Man #1 (Dispatcher): ...One, respond to 3900 block of Locust for a 59 year old man with chest pain. Conscious and alert.
Unidentified Man #2: Received (unintelligible) on route.
HEADLEE: But the equipment is still very advanced. Medics at the University of Pennsylvania use defibrillators that give them instructions so there are fewer chances for error.
(Soundbite of instructional recording)
Unidentified Man #3: Tear open package and remove pads. Peel one pad from plastic liner.
HEADLEE: These EMTs will even have to learn to ride safely during the snowy, freezing months of winter. Understandably, bike EMTs are being used more extensively in warmer parts of the country. Jimmy Green is a director with the Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System in South Carolina. He says his bike team works at least a couple times a month and treats a lot of cardiac patients and heat-related injuries.
Mr. JIMMY GREEN (Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System): Even simple things like seizures, you know, if a patient were to have an airway problem, then that two to three minutes is a huge difference in that type situation. In addition to your heat injuries, if you've got heat exhaustion, quickly could go to heat stroke, so time is a big thing in a lot of these type events.
HEADLEE: Most people agree that bicycle EMTs are an effective tool in healthcare. But Lori Ann Rickard says that one of the reasons they're not used more often is because of problems with insurance reimbursement.
Ms. RICKARD: You almost always need to follow the bike EMT with a regular ambulance, and from a reimbursement standpoint, you can't reimburse both. So I think that's the other problem that you see with a lesser expansion of the bike EMT, is that unless it's a special event and somebody hires you just for bike EMTs, there's really no way currently to be reimbursed for it plus the truck.
HEADLEE: Rickard says the issue is bound to come up in the future because paramedics are being deployed in many non-traditional situations. She says SWAT teams have started using bike EMTs as well because they're more mobile than ambulances. They don't have to wait for the site to be secured and can reach an injured police officer immediately. Andrew Maynor(ph) is the chief of the U Penn bike team. He says creative uses of EMT's are the new direction for emergency response.
Mr. ANDREW MAYNOR (University of Pennsylvania Bike Team): It's taking students which are members of the community, partnering them with university police, with Philadelphia police, and with the Philadelphia Fire Department, to create one unified response team that's ready to respond to the mundane calls as well as to a mass casualty, should one arise. And in the post-9/11 world, this idea of community partnerships with police and the fire department, as well as ambulance response, is really the way of the future to make sure that we are prepared in the event anything occurs on campus or in our community.
HEADLEE: Ambulance companies are also considering the use of motorcycle paramedics to treat patients on highways that are clogged with traffic. For NPR News, I'm Celeste Headlee in Detroit.
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