Snohomish County 911 and County Fire Chiefs Announce Nurse Navigation Program.

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On Tuesday, January 30, Snohomish County 911 and the Snohomish County Fire Chiefs Association announced the launch of Nurse Navigation, an innovative healthcare solution that directs people to the most efficient and appropriate level of care when calling 911, while helping preserve the county’s emergency resources. “The Nurse Navigation program is a layer that helps protect our entire emergency healthcare system, from frontline responders to emergency room doctors and staff,” said Terry Peterson, Deputy Director of Snohomish County 911. “By getting patients to the right care, at the right time and in the right place, we can better meet their needs while also ensuring resources are available for the most critical patients who call 911.”

Nurse Navigation works by routing some 911 callers with non-emergency injuries or illnesses to a licensed nurse for assessment. A Snohomish County 911 dispatcher would first triage the patient’s condition using industry-standard protocols. Eligible patients may then be routed to a nurse navigator who is licensed to provide care in Washington State. The Nurse Navigator would work with the patient to determine the most appropriate medical care, which could include a virtual visit with a board-certified physician, self-care, or transport to a local healthcare provider, including clinics and urgent care centers. Ambulances will continue to be dispatched to 911 callers with urgent, life-threatening or potentially life-threatening medical emergencies. This type of program has already seen usage in Seattle and Vancouver, Washington and the dispatch nurses being used will be working from out of state according to Deputy Director of Snohomish County 911, Terry Peterson.

This type of program isn’t designed to save the county money; however, it is intended to match the resource with what the caller really needs. Sending a paramedic or ambulance to take the caller to the emergency room is the most expensive response, so these other alternatives are more efficient and effective with the county’s money. When a call is placed, patients will be connected to nurse who is licensed in Washington State. Multiple nurses with the program will be on call ready to help someone in need, however if a queue begins to form Snohomish County 911 will go ahead and send out a dispatch to caller. “If you call 911 for a medical issue, typically an ambulance transports you to a hospital emergency room, but the emergency room may not be the right place to receive the right care for your situation,” said Everett Fire Chief Dave DeMarco, speaking on behalf of the Snohomish County Fire Chiefs Association. “If we have more appropriate options for patients with less acute needs, first responders are more likely to be available for our community’s most serious, life-threatening emergencies like heart attacks, strokes or serious car crashes.”

Calls to Snohomish County 911 for fire and emergency medical services (EMS) increased 27% from 2019 to 2023. Of the 111,476 fire and EMS calls last year, up to 17,000 could be considered lower acuity, meaning the patient did not require emergency room treatment. Many of these calls may have been eligible for the Nurse Navigation program. “The whole idea of the Nurse Navigator from the patient perspective is to get the right resources to the issue that they need,” said Dr. Ryan Keay, who is the Medical Program Director with Snohomish County EMS. “Not everyone needs to go to the emergency room, there may be some folks who have chest pain or are not feeling well, and calling 911 has been the default for some time, but with this program we are hoping to answer and work with those types of calls.”

North Sound Accountable Community of Health will fund the initial implementation and first year of Nurse Navigation. Snohomish County joins Seattle and Vancouver, Washington in integrating the program into 911 systems. Find more information at www.sno911.org/nursenavigation.