Wake County EMS Launches New Nurse Navigation Program

Nurse Navigation Program logo, Right Care, Right Time, Right Place, wakegov.com/EMS/NurseNav

Starting March 1, Wake County EMS and its partners will – for the first time ever – launch a new program designed to give individualized care to anyone who calls 911.

The Nurse Navigation Program will enable patients with non-life-threatening health concerns to connect with doctors through telemedicine visits or in-person appointments at the nearest urgent care center, instead of taking an expensive ride in an ambulance and waiting hours in a hospital lobby to get help for a minor health issue.

“We are revolutionizing how we provide health care in Wake County through this innovative program,” said Sig Hutchinson, chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners. “It will enable us to break out of the one-size-fits-all mold and truly give people the right care at the right time at the right place.”

How It Works

flow chart outlining how the nurse navigation program works

A 911 call will come into the Raleigh/Wake or Cary 911 Center, as it does now. A 911 telecommunicator will answer the call and gather important information from the caller to quickly assess the situation.

Based on the assessment, the telecommunicator will decide if the situation is an urgent, life-threatening emergency or a non-life-threatening situation.

  • In a life-threatening emergency, the 911 telecommunicator will dispatch Wake County EMS System first responders to the patient’s location. EMS personnel will evaluate the patient’s symptoms, provide treatment and transport them to the hospital, if they need emergency care.

    Chest pains are a good example of a potentially life-threatening emergency. They could be a sign of a heart attack, which would require immediate medical attention.

  • In a non-life-threatening situation, the 911 telecommunicator will transfer the call to a nurse navigator instead of requesting that EMS respond. The nurse navigator will collect more information from the caller and then route the caller to the best health care option for their needs.

That may include a telemedicine visit over the phone or via video chat with a primary care physician, or an in-person appointment at the nearest clinic or urgent care location.

Examples of non-life-threatening health issues are headaches, toothaches, minor cuts, colds or coughing, constipation and skin rashes. While they may be uncomfortable and require some degree of medical attention to resolve, they don’t need an emergency response.

“This is true public service at its most basic level,” said Dr. José Cabañas, chief medical officer for Wake County. “The Nurse Navigation Program will provide a more efficient and less expensive path to better health for anyone who lives, works, learns or plays in our rapidly growing community.”

The Benefits
Every year, Wake County EMS responds to about 130,000 911 calls. In the first year of the Nurse Navigation Program, projections show about 5% of those callers will be directed to urgent care centers, primary care providers and telemedicine visits. That equals about 6,500 calls a year or as many as 30 people every day receiving the right care at the right time at the right place.

In year two, Wake County EMS expects to double the number of calls that are routed to nurse navigators from 5% to 10%, or 13,000 calls.

The Nurse Navigation Program will save time for everyone in the healthcare continuum.

  • Patients with non-emergent health issues can avoid long waits in the Emergency Department and get the care they really need sooner.
  • EMS personnel will respond to 25-to-30 fewer calls per day, enabling them to reach patients with life-threatening   emergencies faster. It will also help relieve some of the stress and pressure they’re experiencing, considering 911 calls are up 15% compared to pre-pandemic times.
  • Hospital staff who are equally tired after nearly two years of COVID-19 response will see fewer patients come into the Emergency Department seeking care for non-threatening health concerns. Reducing the caseload will allow doctors and nurses to focus more on caring for patients facing life or death situations.

Wake County EMS is contracting with Global Medical Response to staff the nurse navigators who are licensed nurses in the State of North Carolina, have professional experience in emergency nursing and are specially trained in the practice of telephone triage.

For b-roll of GMR’s nurse navigators, visit this
website to download clips. Please indicate that the video is courtesy of GMR. For more information on the program, visit wakegov.com/ems/nursenav.

Press Release