NM health care hotline garners national attention

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Imagine having a nurse on call 24/7- someone who could answer questions about your sick child or save you a trip to the emergency room. The fact is, you already do. It’s called NurseAdvice New Mexico and it’s the only one of its kind in the United States.

Through the NurseAdvice New Mexico, nurses will take calls any time of day or night. They answer questions and make recommendations based on symptoms. What’s more, it’s free.

“It has enormous advantages for our state, especially for people who don’t know their own primary care doctor, or live in a rural area, or the facilities are closed at night, or they don’t know should they go to the emergency room or stay home,” said family physician and Vice Chancellor for Community Health at UNM Dr. Arthur Kaufman.

Dr. Kaufman says the idea came from the need to give everyone in New Mexico access to professional health information, especially those in rural areas. There were nurse lines already, but he says they were run by different organizations, many of which were out of state.

Kaufman says by having an in-state line, nurses are able to refer patients to primary care doctors. Plus, he says it could save you a trip to the emergency room. Sixty-seven percent of patients who were planning to go the ER didn’t, after finding out what they could do at home. That cuts down on costs to the tune of almost $50 a call, saving the whole healthcare system money. According to the hotline’s website, that amounts to $3.5 million annually.

“It’s one of the least expensive uses of technology. It’s just the telephone. A lot of our technology is used to clinics and to hospitals and to telehealth. But this is a simple telephone and it goes right to the patient’s home, so it’s very inexpensive,” Kaufman said.

Funding comes from a partnership that includes almost every insurance carrier, the state’s public health departments and the University of New Mexico’s Health Science Center, to name a few. That’s according to a government technology website.

The unique service started up in 2006. Now, it’s garnering national attention. Kaufman says it’s one of the most important public health interventions we’ve ever seen and now the Center for Disease Control is taking notice, and it’s not just because of what it’s doing for patients.

“This line allows the Public Health Department to suddenly pick up when there’s an outbreak, let’s say of influenza. It allows them to know about that days before it appears on doctor’s offices or emergency rooms so they can intervene quickly,” explained Kaufman. “This is a state where we desperately need to have doctors, for example, practicing in rural and under-served areas. But if they’re woken up all night by the telephone call, it makes it very difficult for them to stay. They can’t sleep. This line lets them go to sleep. We’ll take the call, take care of it and let them know the next morning.”

Next month, at an emergency preparedness summit in Atlanta, the CDC plans to recommend New Mexico’s advice line as a national model that other states can use. NurseAdvice New Mexico receives an average of 15,000 callers a month, according to their website. For more information to the advice line, click here.

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