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DispatchHealth Brings Hospital and Emergency Medicine to Patients’ Front Doors
February 17, 2023
By Dave Andrews
Healthcare is an honorable service. It’s also a complicated business with numerous opportunities for improving access, quality, and efficiency.
For Kevin Riddleberger, PA-C, MBA, improving care delivery models is not only his profession but also his passion. As the co-founder and chief strategy officer of DispatchHealth, Riddleberger leads a rapidly expanding network of providers who bring emergency and hospital medicine directly to the patient’s front door.
“In your typical healthcare settings—and especially in the emergency department—there’s often a significant amount of waste and inefficiencies for patients,” Riddleberger said. “And a large portion of patients who are treated in the emergency department can be treated just as effectively in their home, and at a much lower cost.”
The unique care model of DispatchHealth enables a team of two providers, including a PA or a nurse practitioner and a medical technician, to deliver care in the patient’s home. The care team provides the same level of treatment patients would have received in a more expensive facility, but in a more comfortable environment.
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Before a care team is deployed, the patient is screened over the phone to determine if the providers can safely care for them inside the home or if their condition is a more time-sensitive, life- or limb-threatening condition that requires treatment in the emergency department (ED). DispatchHealth brings ED and hospital-level care to patients, and their providers can treat a wide range of illnesses such as COPD exacerbation, congestive heart failure, UTIs, and more with procedures such as x-rays, lab tests, administering IVs, and changing catheters.
Riddleberger says bringing care directly to the patient also helps alleviate congestion in local EDs. And remaining outside of a healthcare facility greatly reduces the patient’s risk of exposure to other illnesses, especially because the majority of DispatchHealth patients are geriatric, many of whom are dealing with multiple comorbidities.
A Business Mindset
Riddleberger knows from first-hand experience about the cost burdens and efficiency challenges care facilities face. He spent the first half of his PA career working in a variety of clinical settings with a wide range of patient populations. But after more than a decade of practicing medicine, he decided to shift gears to focus more on care delivery transformation.
“I really wanted to better understand the business side of healthcare where I could focus on developing ways to address the inefficiencies I’d seen up to that point,” Riddleberger said. “To make improvements, I knew I’d first need to learn more about how patients were accessing care, the flow of funds, and the benefits and process of adopting new technology into our practice.”
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After going back to school to earn an MBA and then gaining valuable industry experience leading clinical solutions for the mobile health app iTriage, Riddleberger and his business partner, Dr. Mark Prather, developed DispatchHealth.
In its early stages, DispatchHealth was merely a research project for Riddleberger and his partner. They were collaborating with a local EMS agency in Denver, responding to 911 calls from patients who needed care but didn’t need to be transported to the ED. Eventually, the duo expanded beyond the EMS to where DispatchHealth could take incoming patient calls directly and deploy its own vehicle to patients’ homes outside the 911 system to treat their acute medical complaints.
A Different Patient-Provider Relationship
Being in a more personal setting helps facilitate a more palliative environment for everyone, according to Julianne Lally, PA-C, who for the past three years has worked as the national training specialist for DispatchHealth.
“I worked in the ED for several years, and even when the patient receives excellent care, and all else goes well, the patient still has to deal with all of the stressors of the ED,” Lally said. “I realized the environment of an ED—being around others who don’t feel well—can create a negative patient mindset from the beginning, which is hard to overcome.”
When she first started at DispatchHealth, Lally admits she was surprised by how well the patients received the providers in their homes. No matter how sick a patient is, she says, they are always happy to have the providers there.
“You can tell they feel so much more comfortable and safer being in their own home,” Lally said. “They’ll see you petting their dog or admiring their family photos, for example, and they’re like, ‘Wow, you’re a real person. Thank you for coming.’ They’re just so appreciative, which is my favorite part of what we do.”
In Lally’s experience, being in the patient’s home also provides a clearer picture of the patient’s living conditions and identifies potential problems. The providers are better able to assess things such as fall risks, food supply, medication management, and any other issues that could ultimately lead to further medical treatment if not addressed.
DispatchHealth’s Rapid Growth
When DispatchHealth was established in 2013, it only served the Denver market with a team of a handful of providers and one vehicle. It has since expanded into nearly 50 markets across 30 states and has provided care to nearly one million patients.
“From the very beginning, we knew this had significant potential [because we have] an amazing medical group consisting of all advanced practice providers delivering convenient, scalable, high-quality care across the country,” said Dr. Pete Hudson, a former ED physician and a healthcare entrepreneur who was among the first investors in DispatchHealth.
Although he implemented this new care delivery model with a business mindset, Riddleberger’s true incentive has always been to improve patient outcomes by expanding access to safe, high-quality, affordable care. And with DispatchHealth, he’s making huge strides toward achieving his goals.
“One of the beauties of this is that we’re not just creating new technology, but we’re also delivering care in new ways,” Riddleberger said. “I’m continually receiving patient reviews and hearing provider stories about the impact that we’re having, and that’s something that really motivates me—knowing that we’re making a real impact on the lives of patients and caregivers.”
Dave Andrews is a freelance writer and public relations professional based in Northern Virginia. Contact him at [email protected].
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