Memphis Fire Department utilizing new tactic to get patients the right response for medical emergencies

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Receiving the right response in an emergency is what the Memphis Fire Department is working toward.

The Memphis Fire Department has partnered with local health care organizations to streamline services.

Last year the Memphis Fire Department responded to 130,000 medical calls. Some of the calls were not life-threatening and potentially tied up ambulances that could be better off elsewhere.

A new program the city utilizes actually sends a doctor to some of the non-life-threatening calls and gets them in touch with the right resources.

It's Wednesday morning and WREG is riding with the Memphis Fire Department; we're on our way to stage for medical calls in Parkway Village.

At the wheel is paramedic Jason Edgar. By his side is Dr. John David Williamson of Resurrection Health, a faith-based nonprofit that has partnered with MFD.

Shortly into our trip a call comes in; it's regarding a man in his 30s experiencing chest pain. The 911 dispatcher asked a series of questions, ultimately determining the patient can be seen by this team.

"A 30-year-old with chest pains that’s got no other warning signs comes in as an Alpha," explained Williamson.

We’re on the way — the call is not far from our location.

This patient said it was OK for us to film Edgar and Williamson treating him, but for privacy reasons we are not showing his face or identifying him.

"You ever have any pain like this before?” questioned Williamson.

An EKG is performed — Dr. Williamson determines his heart rate is OK. Remember this call came in as chest pain.

"I think most likely this is something else, something much less serious. Alright, like stomach acid pain, which feels just like chest pain because of the way the food pipe goes right behind your heart," Williamson tells the patient.

Dr. Williamson says the man does have high blood pressure. He gives him something to help with his nausea and helps him secure a ride to a primary care doctor who can give the longer-term care he needs.

Before this pilot program, RADAR, Rapid Assessment Decision and Redirection, started in April, this man would have been taken to the emergency room in an ambulance — an ambulance ride and treatment potentially costing upwards of $1,000.

So far they’ve responded to more than 500 calls.

Right now there is one other team similar to Edgar and Dr. Williamson’s in the city, but they’re looking to expand because they say it’s working.

"Honestly in the big picture is to get people into the proper level of care and the level of care that is going to help them the most as opposed to just the emergency room," said Williamson.

"We’re actually increasing the services that we’re providing to the city of Memphis and just giving them other options," said Fire Director Gina Sweat.

Memphis Fire is now evaluating options to keep this program sustainable.