Todd Olmstead

For many people, calling for an ambulance is the only way they can get treatment, but it’s not always the most cost-effective choice. One UT professor wants to help reimagine emergency services in an evolving health care industry.

“Emergency departments are exactly where you want to go if you’re in a car wreck or have a stroke or heart attack, but they’re not great places if you have a bad cold or a mental illness,” says Dr. Todd Olmstead, a second-year professor at the LBJ School and the James M. and Claudia U. Richter Fellow in Global Health Policy.

Olmstead, the first joint hire between the LBJ School and Seton Healthcare, is directing a Policy Research Project (PRP) aimed at rethinking the delivery of pre-hospital emergency care. Olmstead’s PRP, titled “Improving ATCEMS Integration with Local Healthcare Networks,” will help Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services (ATCEMS) consider its future options in the face of a changing health care scene.

A cornerstone project for LBJ master’s degree students, PRPs provide opportunities to research relevant policy issues and work with clients to implement student-generated recommendations. Olmstead wants his students to become familiar with EMS culture not just by reading about it but also by experiencing it through ambulance ride-alongs and listening to 911 calls.

“You can read about it in a book or listen to me tell you how it works or even listen to people who do it for a living, but I think being there, seeing it firsthand, and experiencing it will give you more factual information and a better sense of the EMS culture,” Olmstead says.