Private ambulance companies are offering services that go beyond those of Emergency Medical Services.
Private ambulances transport patients from one hospital to another, to nursing homes or other special-care centers, on intercity trips and from hospital to home, as well as answer emergency calls.
Unlike the public city ambulances, which are generally required to take patients to a designated hospital within a 10-minute radius of where they were picked up, private ambulance services will deliver people to the hospital of their choice. Hospitals must accept emergency patients from public and private ambulances even if admission has not been prearranged.
Such ambulances are required to have at least one trained emergency medical technician and certain medical equipment on board.
When a person dials for a medical emergency, a police operator switches the call to the Emergency Medical Services headquarters. There a medically trained operator evaluates the call and routes it to a dispatcher, who calls the nearest available ambulance by radio. Either a ”basic life support” vehicle with emergency medical technicians or an ”advanced life support” unit with paramedics aboard will respond, depending on how serious the emergency is. E.M.S. goes to designated hospitals
Ordinarily E.M.S. ambulances must take a patient to one of designated ”receiving hospitals,” choosing one that is less than 10 minutes away.
To a large degree the private and public services are complementary but if someone needs to go to a hospital or nursing home and it’s not a real emergency, it’s better to call a private ambulance service.
Private ambulances handle most patient transfers that are not emergencies and respond to emergency calls. If a patient calls emergency, he’s taken to the nearest hospital. If his doctor is affiliated with another hospital and he wants to be treated there, the city won’t transfer him. So the patient or his doctor hires a private ambulance.
Private ambulance companies also carry thousands of patients who are unable to drive or be driven to clinics, doctors’ offices or other treatment centers. They also transport patients being discharged from hospitals and carry patients to and from nursing homes. In addition, they offer transport to hospitals outside the city, where E.M.S. is not allowed to go, and many companies serve corporations that want ambulances on call for their employees. Most private services have wheelchair vans, or ambulettes, to transport patients who cannot walk.
Most private ambulances are equipped to provide basic life support, and carry at least one emergency medical technician in addition to the driver. These technicians are trained in first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, splinting, child delivery and extricating accident victims. Some private ambulances are staffed with paramedics, who are trained in advanced life support and thus are also able to insert intravenous lines, operate electrocardiographs and some medications, and defibrillate irregular heartbeats.
Private ambulance rates are not regulated, and their structure generally includes a base rate, a mileage charge, charges for additional care, and night and weekend surcharges.
Both E.M.S. and the private ambulance companies accept healthcare insurance patients. Insurance will cover part of the costs. Municipal ambulances bill patients later, but most private services require on-the-spot payment by cash or check. A few accept credit cards. Many private insurance companies will reimburse part of ambulance costs.
Most local ambulance companies operate round the clock, are phone or radio-dispatched and serve large parts of the metropolitan area. Vehicles are on call at all times, which means that generally they should be able to respond quickly to an emergency call. But because appointments must usually be made in advance for non-emergency service, response time is less an issue than reliability.