by Sebastian Meza, OMS-I
This article was originally published in the July/August 2022 issue of the Tarrant County Physician. You can read find the full magazine here.
Texas is suffering a healthcare crisis from a lack of practicing physicians. This fact is even graver in rural communities, where the nearest hospital might be a couple of hours away. It is time that we take medical care closer to these vulnerable patients, and that is where mobile healthcare clinics can offer an efficient solution.
As a first-year medical student at the Texas College of Osteopathic medicine, I was fortunate enough to serve with the Pediatric Mobile Clinic at the Health Science Center. To picture this mobile clinic, you must imagine a bus or RV that has been transformed into a fully functional pediatric clinic. It might seem like there would not be much space in the mobile unit, but it is fully equipped to perform many medical services. The unit carries out vaccination drives, full screen wellness check-ups, sports physicals, and much more. It is a small glimpse into the future of medicine.
Looking back at my very first day serving as a student doctor, I did not know the extent of what the pediatric mobile clinic could do. My first patient came in and presented with learning difficulties, café au lait spots, and some vision problems. It was an enormous surprise to find myself examining a possible case of neurofibromatosis, a rare disease that we had covered just a few days prior. I left that day thinking about how this child would not have been able to receive care or be referred to a specialist if the Pediatric Mobile Clinic had not shown up at his school. I felt grateful and fortunate to have been there to serve the children of our Fort Worth community.
It was not until I had a chance to serve in this mobile unit that I realized that this concept was a great solution for Texas’ rural communities. Mobile clinics bring medical services to areas that are hours away from major cities with large medical centers. These clinics are easily adaptable and can be transformed to house many different kinds of practices. They operate much like a regular clinic; patients can look up when the mobile clinic will be near them and then schedule appointments online. Primary care practices can take full advantage of transforming and adapting the mobile units to serve a specific patient population.
For example, mobile clinics can directly help many underserved communities by being closer to patients, which saves time and transportation costs that can often be barriers to seeking treatment. Mobile health clinics do require an initial capital expense for institutions and hospitals. However, they bring in enough revenue to cover their own costs, they draw patients into the sphere of the base clinic or the hospital, and they help keep our community healthier.
I did not expect to feel so strongly about the concept of mobile healthcare clinics when I first set foot onto that crowded bus, but it is impossible not to recognize how efficient it is to have mobile clinics at our major schools and hospital institutions, as well as in rural communities. These mobile clinics should be part of our vision for the future of healthcare. It is time to advocate for more mobile clinics on our Fort Worth roads!