Bringing mobile health care to rural Colorado with Rocky Mountain Health Plans

Mobile, at-home rural health care

Following a two-week stay at the hospital for meningitis, Natalie was discharged to go back home. Everything was fine until about three days later. She lived in Delta, Colorado on the Western Slope, and was about a four-and-a-half-hour drive to Denver.

Before she left the hospital, staff told Natalie about the Delta County Ambulance District’s Mobile Integrated Health program (DCAD-MIH) so she requested they check in on her as she recovered from home. It wasn’t long before they found an issue that could’ve threatened her life.

Natalie was having a racing heart and a tightness in her neck. Dave Jepsen, the MIH paramedic who attended to her, noticed Natalie’s skin had a gray tint, and after some tests, Dave realized that treatment couldn’t wait. She was sent to the emergency room and soon after, was airlifted to Colorado Springs.

“If he hadn’t have told me to go back (to the hospital), I probably wouldn’t have gone back until someone made me at some point, which could’ve been a lot worse,” Natalie said. “Personally, I feel like if I hadn’t gotten treatment, my life would be a lot different.”

Coming into people’s homes and providing this kind of care is new – but also a call back to how things used to be.

“Back in the day, physicians made house calls,” said Reuben Farnsworth, clinical operations coordinator for Delta County Ambulance District. “We obviously don’t have physicians to make house calls now, but we do have paramedics. We’re changing the paradigm of how people access the health care system.”

DCAD-MIH, and the mobile integrated health care concept, helps to fill a much-needed gap in a rural area, with support from UnitedHealthcare and Rocky Mountain Health Plans.

In areas of Colorado, a lack of primary care physicians means that people were more likely to face long waits at crowded emergency rooms or opt for a costly ambulance ride to the hospital for relatively minor ailments.

Instead, mobile integrated health care meets people where they are. Reuben and his team found that treating people in their homes can be quicker, more effective and affordable, plus help take some of the pressure off the health care system. The MIH clinicians can also provide an important link to other physicians for a continuum of care.

The support from UnitedHealthcare and Rocky Mountain Health Plans has been instrumental in scaling up this model in the region.

“We couldn’t have grown as fast as we have without the investment from Rocky Mountain Health Plans and UnitedHealthcare,” Reuben said. “Their vision and willingness to jump on board with us in this and say, ‘Yes, we think this is the future,’ and their willingness to embrace innovation is what has helped us to thrive and move forward.”

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