Nigel Deen is a Research Assistant, Innovation, at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
Last week, members of IHI’s Diversity and Inclusion Council traveled along the East Coast highlighting the positive impact mobile health clinics have in their respective communities. At each stop, we were amazed by the stories, the shared experiences, and the partnerships that these clinics have built within their communities. The tour proved to be a lens into work that has spanned decades; work that extends far past the brick and mortar boundaries of often nearby hospitals. Much of this work is dependent on the charitable giving of others, especially grants and donations. As such, year after year, effective programs that are bringing care to marginalized populations can only start their journey after asking, ”How much longer can we afford to stay on the road?”
Increased access does not exclusively mean increased physical access. It goes much deeper. Access is the clinician that can communicate effectively to their patient in their language but also in terms that they understand - it is easy to forget that medical terms are a foreign langauge to most people. It is the caregiver that understands and appreciates cultural differences. It is the doctor, nurse, or resident who wants to understand the whole person, as well as any ailment that an individual might have on that particular day. From this tour, we learned that the daily interaction between providers and the people who step onto a mobile health clinic is the most gratifying part of the job. Many come to know that on a certain day, at a certain hour, there will be a clinic in their community; they not only start to look for the mobile clinics, but for the people on those very clinics. Without that relationship, without that trust, those patients might not seek the care they need.
On Thursday, at the Mobile Health Tour kickoff event in Mattapan in Boston, IHI’s President and CEO, Maureen Bisognano, emphasized the need to flip healthcare; to move from asking, “What is the matter?” to “What matters to you?” Throughout the tour, we posed the same question and captured the responses:
Being able to play sports with your kids. Resilence, being alive, and maintaining good health. Being your best you. Different answers to an important question - what does health mean to you?
At the Boston kick-off event, we also had the pleasure of meeting Lena Galloway-Reddick, Director of Partnership and Community with the Higginson-Lewis K-8 school. Through a federal Full Service Community School grant she has been able to develop partnerships with agencies that can support their children — medically, socially, and academically. Partnering with the New England Eye Mobile Clinic has enabled them to come into the classroom to screen all 450 of her students; students who fail the initial exam are seen on the van and, if necessary, are able to receive corrective lenses within 5 weeks. They are then able to track the social and academic progress of these students for whom health is much more than just a prescription; it’s an opportunity to engage and participate more fully in their school and in their lives.