Odam Medical Group is taking its show on the road with a mobile clinic that brings its services to the patient, rather than the other way around.
Odam Medical Group is operating its mobile clinic in partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield. The clinic, housed in an RV, is intended to address barriers to care by removing transportation access as an issue that keeps patients out of the doctor's office.
"Whatever service you can get in a primary care clinic, we can deliver in the mobile unit," Dr. Robert Larbi-Odam said. Odam Medical Group practices in family medicine and public health and has locations in St. Cloud and Minneapolis.
Child checkups? Yes. Vaccines? Yes. Diabetes screening? Yes. Asthma monitoring? Yes. Sore throats? Yes. The list goes on, as do the amenities: a fridge for vaccines, a bathroom for urine samples, a lab section, running water, a blood pressure machine, temperature monitor, televisions to show educational materials, a waiting area that can hold a family of five. It's exactly what it sounds like primary care on wheels.
"We found out (during the COVID-19 pandemic) that there is a carved-out niche for mobile medical units to deliver primary care, preventative services, and some basic acute care," Larbi-Odam said.
Larbi-Odam said transportation issues are one of the most common reasons people don't arrive for appointments. Bringing the appointments to them is one way to solve that issue.
Bukata Hayes, BCBS of Minnesota's vice president of racial and health equity, said challenges apparent during the pandemic — like transportation — were already there. And while telehealth can increase some access, the clinical needs continue, and telehealth adds the challenge of access to reliable internet and expensive devices.
Furthermore, for senior citizens who may be at risk for falling, there's the potential for a fall risk assessment at a patient's home, said Sara Mulder, BCBS of Minnesota's public relations manager. She said BCBS saw more fractures among seniors during the pandemic.
"That's something that we actively want to address," she said.
Furthermore, it's not unusual for residents in the St. Cloud area to travel 30 to 40 minutes for health care needs. This is an attempt to reduce that strain, Mulder said.
Hayes said it's also important to remember that people who may need a mobile clinic to improve their access to health care aren't outliers in the community, particularly as the pandemic meant more people were impacted by lost wages or lost jobs.
"Actually, (that's) a number of families who are simply trying to work to get by," Hayes said. "... We find it is all too common, actually."
The mobile clinic operates on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays to be more convenient, Larbi-Odam said. The clinic treats children, adults, and seniors, and therefore an entire household could receive care in one visit.
The second weekend in May, the team treated 30 patients at the mobile clinic. The third weekend in May, they treated 20.
Larbi-Odam said the mobile clinic has also improved his experience as a provider by increasing the amount of time the actual provider spends with a patient.
"I am in on the conversation from the beginning," he said.
Instead of spending 10-15 minutes of a 30-minute clinic visit with the provider, it's far more likely the patient will spend the full half-hour with the doctor, Larbi-Odam said. It's also been more efficient, with fewer interruptions.
After the first few weeks, in which Larbi-Odam is familiarizing himself with the system and working out the details of practicing in a mobile clinic, three providers will run the program. Larbi-Odam said he's hoping to hire a fourth provider yet this year.
So far, the mobile clinic has served patients in Stearns and Benton counties but will travel to eight: Stearns, Wright, Benton, Sherburne, Clay, Crow Wing, Otter Tail, and Cass counties.
In addition to mobility, the Odam Medical Group has a diverse staff with various language proficiencies.
It's one of two mobile clinics partnering with BCBS in the state. The other is a pediatric mobile clinic with Hennepin Healthcare.
To schedule an appointment with the mobile clinic, call 320-204-4024 or schedule online at odammedicalgroup.org.