Making healthcare mobile and more accessible

Health |  3 min. read

In southwest Virginia, where people came out the night before to get a place in line.

In Spokane, Washington, where people waited underneath a bridge.

In Queens, New York, where people had been flooded out of their homes by Hurricane Sandy…

And in Pittsburgh, where people got a phone call at home inviting them to come on down…

In each place, what brought those people out, was a mobile medical clinic – bringing a doctor’s care to people, who might not see a doctor any other way.

These “mobile health clinics on wheels” come in all shapes and sizes:  an SUV, an old school bus, a converted RV, a trailer pulled behind a truck, a custom-built van.  With a full tank of gas and a good set of tires, almost any vehicle can be a clinic on wheels.

And the people who see a doctor at a mobile clinic?  They come in all shapes and sizes too.  There are kids in school (some clinics roll right up to the playground).  There are people in the aftermath of a natural disaster, like a hurricane or an earthquake.  There are people who have no homes, who find the clinic in a parking lot.  There are farmworkers and white collar workers – retirees and kids – city folks and country folks.  In the city, and in the country.

Some people don’t have the money for a doctor.  Some people live too far from the nearest doctor and some people just can’t take time from work and go somewhere to see a doctor during regular hours.

And for all those different reasons a person might not get to the doctor, mobile clinics – doctors on wheels – bring medical care to them.

In New York, for instance – where after Hurricane Sandy, “Project Coastal Care” went on the road – at a time when New Yorkers and their doctors were sometimes both displaced – treating patients as young as 3 months, and as old as 91 (years).  What people needed most, it turned out, were vaccinations (like tetanus).  What affected the most people were breathing problems and other lung conditions.  And what brought the doctor to those people in need – was a mobile medical clinic.

And underneath I-90 in Spokane, where Molina Mobile Healthcare joined with Blessings Under the Bridge, for their Wednesday night outreach to homeless people.  Blessings brings food, and now Molina brings medical care – two exam rooms and a lab, in a retooled RV – treating minor injuries, giving eye exams, checking blood sugar, screening for flu, strep and other illnesses.

In Pittsburgh, “Healthcare on the Go” is a project of Highmark Insurance – and they not only come to you, they come get you (metaphorically speaking).  Highmark looks for members who have not been getting preventive care, and calls them when the mobile clinic is going to be nearby.  “Healthcare on the Go” brings wellness checks, immunizations, blood tests and more to its members in Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia – to people who don’t have a regular doctor, who can’t get to a doctor’s office, who can’t take time off work during regular office hours.

And when Remote Area Medical pulled into Wise, Virginia – in the Appalachian Mountains, it’s almost more like a hospital on wheels.  Three days at the county fairgrounds – more than 2000 people – and underneath the big tents, dentists cleaning teeth, filling teeth, pulling bad teeth.  Eye charts for eye exams, with optometrists writing prescriptions for (free) eyeglasses.  Chest X-rays (that was inside a special truck) – breast exams – screening for diabetes and providing insulin – all sorts of general medical care.

The Big Orange Bus is on the road all around town in Flagstaff, Arizona – with a couple of exam rooms, a dental chair, a small lab, and sporting a bright orange coat of paint.

In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if you’d seen a mobile clinic yourself.  There’s about 2000 of them on the road all around the country, at least one in each of the fifty states.

The doctors and nurses who staff those clinics provide the care that’s needed.  And the fuels, like gasoline and diesel made it possible to bring that care where it’s needed.  Wherever that road leads.