Ambulance 'frequent flyers' cost EMS time and money - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Ambulance 'frequent flyers' cost EMS time and money

Most South Georgia county EMS services tell us they have a certain number of people they call "Frequent Flyers," people who call 911 and request an ambulance when it's not a real emergency. (Source: WALB) Most South Georgia county EMS services tell us they have a certain number of people they call "Frequent Flyers," people who call 911 and request an ambulance when it's not a real emergency. (Source: WALB)
Emergency Medical Services across the country face the challenge of people who call for ambulance service again and again, when there is not a real EMS needed. (Source: WALB) Emergency Medical Services across the country face the challenge of people who call for ambulance service again and again, when there is not a real EMS needed. (Source: WALB)
"We're going to go, regardless of what the call comes in as," said Dougherty County EMS Director Greg Rowe. (Source: WALB) "We're going to go, regardless of what the call comes in as," said Dougherty County EMS Director Greg Rowe. (Source: WALB)
"It's a risk anytime you get on the road with an emergency vehicle, because you are running emergency mode," said Albany Fire Department Fire Chief Ron Rowe. (Source: WALB) "It's a risk anytime you get on the road with an emergency vehicle, because you are running emergency mode," said Albany Fire Department Fire Chief Ron Rowe. (Source: WALB)
DOUGHERTY CO., GA (WALB) -

Emergency Medical Services across the country face the challenge of people who call for ambulance service again and again, when there is not a real EMS needed.

Most South Georgia county EMS services tell us they have a certain number of people they call "Frequent Flyers," people who call 911 and request an ambulance when it's not a real emergency.

Now, WALB's Jim Wallace examines the high cost those free rides could put on a community.

Emergency officials say they get these calls almost daily calls for emergency medical services, that might not be a real emergency.

"It's a risk anytime you get on the road with an emergency vehicle, because you are running emergency mode," said Albany Fire Department Fire Chief Ron Rowe.

Dispatcher: 911, what is your emergency? What's the problem? 

Caller 1: I got a, I stepped on a nail and my feet still swelling up.

Caller 2: I'm having trouble with my throat and my nose.

Caller 3: I don't know. I been having a lot of heartburn.

"We're going to go, regardless of what the call comes in as," said Dougherty County EMS Director Greg Rowe.

Emergency services have to treat every call as the real thing, but on average Dougherty County officials say they get one "frequent flyer" per day.

Officials describe a frequent flyer as someone who calls for an ambulance trip to the emergency room, when a doctor visit is more appropriate. 

But emergency officials say the high rate of poverty in Albany explains why many frequent flyers may just want a free ride.

"Because they don't have transportation to a health service provider or anything of that nature. So an ambulance is the immediate response," said Ron Rowe

EMS Director Greg Rowe estimates each ambulance run costs the county about $191. 

While the frequent flyer's insurance often can not pay back that cost, there is a much more costly danger to the community in these unnecessary calls.

The good news is that for the last three years, Dougherty County has managed to stay under-budget despite the cost.

  • 2014: Allocated $4.1 million, spent $3,692,785
  • 2015: Allocated $4.1 million, spent $3,799,997
  • 2016: Allocated $4.1 million, spent $3,900,000
  • 2017: Allocates $4.4 million

"Anytime a truck goes out, that pretty much leaves that territory open," said Greg Rowe.

When one county paramedic crew is servicing a frequent flyer, if a real medical emergency like a car crash or a stroke occurs, it has to be served by the nearest station's ambulance. 

"It is going to add 3 to 6 minutes to that call," said Greg Rowe.

Which could be the difference between life and death.

A cost of unnecessary ambulance service to frequent flyers that no one wants to pay.

But what officials call the future of EMS service could be an answer to this problem. 

Computerized Medical services for 911 calls that are not emergency needs. 

A crew with a computerized link to a remote physician to examine the patient on line.

"That physician can basically sit right there and guide you with that tool. And he can see exactly what he needs to see, and guides direction at that point.  That would reduce a lot of hospital visits," said Greg Rowe.

Computerized Doctor checks could be the future of EMS, but for now ambulances continue to roll each time someone calls 911.

Even if paramedics know it could be a frequent flyer calling again.

First responders want you to remember many calls that don't sound like medical emergency could be. They can't be sure without being dispatched to the scene.

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