Mobile clinics seen as way to cut U.S. health bill

Wed Aug 11, 2010 5:26pm EDT
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By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - Every Monday afternoon, a 40-foot (12-meter) motorhome converted to serve as a mobile health clinic pulls into Boston's gritty Roxbury neighborhood and opens its doors to people like Angie Santiago.

"I work from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. I don't have time to go to the hospital. Here I can just walk in," the 34-year-old teacher's assistant said recently as she waited during her lunch break for a test.

"I have kids to support. I can't afford to take a day off from work."

Santiago is one of some 3,000 people each year who visit the Family Van for free checks of their blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol level.

The nonprofit clinic affiliated with Harvard University provides simple tests that can give an early warning of an impending health problem or help manage an existing condition, such as diabetes.

The van -- which visits six low-income neighborhoods around Boston weekly -- is one of about 2,000 such mobile clinics in the United States. Advocates say the approach can help control the rising cost of health care by helping people with chronic diseases to stay out of the emergency room, often the first recourse for inner-city residents.

"Our medical system in this country is focused on illness. What we are doing is helping people when they're sick," said Jennifer Bennet, executive director of the Family Van, which is backed by Harvard Medical School.

"It would be a lot less expensive and people's quality of life would be vastly improved if we as a society and as a country start to look at addressing these problems long before they get to that acute stage."   Continued...

<p>Client Julius Wayne Dudley (L) reacts as volunteer Jeffrey Pierre-Paul picks his finger for a cholesterol test in the Family Van in Boston, Massachusetts August 9, 2010. REUTERS/Brian Snyder</p>