Emergency care: Bike medics another option for first response

Emergency room sign
It’s significantly less expensive to arm a team of bike medics than it is to purchase and outfit an additional ambulance. (Photo credit: Getty/Nils Versemann)

Patients who need immediate treatment may be hard for ambulance and emergency medical teams to reach, so some first responders are investing in bike medics to provide speedier assistance.

The first EMTs on the scene to treat actress Carrie Fisher after she suffered a heart attack aboard an airplane in late December, for instance, were bike medics, according to an article from The Pew Charitable Trusts Stateline blog. The bike medics were already at the airport because of the holiday travel rush, according to the article, and they were able to quickly begin efforts to resuscitate her.

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“Sometimes, every second counts with these situations,” Maureen Becker, executive director of the International Police Mountain Bike Association, which trains and certifies such teams, told the publication. “Because a bicycle is able to respond so quickly, the actions can be life-saving.”

It’s also significantly less expensive to arm a team of bike medics than it is to purchase and outfit an additional ambulance, according to the article. For example, it cost West Park Hospital, a 25-bed acute care facility in Cody, Wyoming, less than $3,000 to purchase three bikes, uniforms and saddlebags for its EMS department. The bike medics carry supplies the EMS team already keeps on hand. An ambulance, however, can cost as much as $280,000 to purchase and fully equip, according to the article.

Bike medics do have limitations, though, according to the article, as they cannot carry patients to the hospital if they require additional treatment and they cannot bring bulky equipment like stretchers. But they can carry oxygen, IVs, defibrillators and cardiac monitors to triage patients. 

Providers are exploring a diverse set of options to improve access for patients in hard-to-reach populations and to reduce unneeded ER visits. Community paramedicine is a similar solution to using bike medics and gives EMTs the power to proactively treat patients on-scene when their illness or injury isn’t grave enough to warrant a trip to the hospital. Paramedics also often travel with sophisticated equipment and have access to broader communication networks that expand their options for treating patients.