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Health--it's what we all have in common: whether we're trying to maintain our health through good habits or improve our failing health. "Bridges to Health" is 90.5 WESA's health care reporting initiative examining everything from unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act to transparency in health care costs; from a lack of access to quality care for minority members of our society to confronting the opioid crisis in our region. It's about our individual health and the well-being of our community.Health care coverage on 90.5 WESA is made possible in part by a grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.

A Trip To The Doctor Takes New Meaning With Mobile Health Clinic

Liz Reid
90.5 WESA

Health insurer Highmark is launching a new mobile health clinic in an attempt to bring care to those who find it difficult to get to the doctor’s office.

Dubbed Healthcare on the Go, the RV-like facility will travel throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia and will be staffed by local physicians and nurses in rural and other hard-to-reach communities.

Barbara Gray, senior vice president of clinical services at Highmark, said the company will use claims data to identify Medicare Advantage, Medicaid and Affordable Care Act members with gaps in care.

“We absolutely look for those members with chronic conditions, but we’ll also look for those members who … haven’t had an annual wellness exam,” she said.

Highmark will contact those members individually to set up appointments at a central location where the mobile health clinic will be stationed.

Gray estimates that about 5 percent of its 5.2 million members have experienced gaps in their care and would be targets of the program.

Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Highmark's mobile clinic includes two private exam rooms.

“We do have blood draws, we do have urinalysis tests, and we’re doing retinal screenings and osteoporosis screenings for women who have recently had fractures,” she said. “This is not to be confused with an emergency room or an urgent care center. What we’re focusing on are really the wellness and … preventive health services.”

Providers will also be able to offer immunizations for children, smoking cessation counseling, colorectal cancer screenings and postpartum care.

The truck cost about $300,000 to retrofit and the program will cost about $500,000 annually to operate. But Gray said Highmark officials are hopeful that it will pay for itself by reducing the need for emergency room visits and serious medical interventions.

“It is definitely a new trend to see that insurers are doing this,” said Elizabeth Wallace, executive director of the Mobile Health Clinics Association. “Kaiser Permanente does have several vehicles in California as well as a few other states, and now United Healthcare has done it in Las Vegas, but it’s definitely a new model. The majority of our members are nonprofit hospitals, federal qualified health centers and clinics.”

Wallace estimated there are about 2,000 mobile health clinics nationwide, which run the gamut from HIV or blood pressure testing units to full doctor’s offices on wheels, like Highmark’s.

Gray said mobile clinic appointments will begin in June in West Virginia.

Health care coverage on 90.5 WESA is made possible in part by a grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.
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