IOWA CITY — Students with the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine have altered their mobile clinic during the coronavirus crisis, offering free phone and video appointments to anyone who asks.
The appointments are similar to other telemedicine operations, but the student-run nonprofit, which started in 2002, is offering its help free to anyone regardless of income, according to Joyce Wahba, third-year medical student and an executive coordinator of the mobile clinic.
The mobile clinic typically hosts small, in-person clinics at places like community centers, homeless shelters and churches. But those are suspended because of the novel coronavirus.
But offering phone and video appointments opens the service to the community and even people living outside Iowa City.
Wahba, 25, said students who conduct the initial interviews with patients are in the clinical phase of their training.
Hospital rotations for the medical students also have been suspended, cutting off the students’ interactions with patients.
Conducting phone or video appointments allows students to interact with patients and gain experience with presenting cases to the attending doctors or supervisors.
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Students also can work with patients from different populations and with interpreters, allowing them to explore career options such as primary care and women’s health, Wahba said.
The volunteers for the clinics are third-year medical and physician assistant students and others from graduate programs such as pharmacy, physical therapy, dental, social work and public health.
“Everything we do is supervised by staff medical providers from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics,” Wahba said. “After the student conducts the interview, they call and present all of the information to the staff supervisor. Then together, they contact the patient with additional clarification and plans.
“Any prescriptions that need to be ordered would be under the supervising staff’s name.”
Wahba said the students can offer basic health care needs, general health education, information about COVID-19, medication refills on chronic conditions and other small acute issues.
They also can make referrals for mental health and help those who might need navigating the health care system, including helping them sign up for health insurance.
The students usually refer patients to the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic if they need to have a physical exam or have another serious issue. If an individual is having a medical emergency, the students recommend the person go to a hospital emergency room.
The mobile clinic served more than 500 patients in 2019, Wahba said. About 66 percent were uninsured; 41 percent were members of a minority group; 24 percent were rural residents; and 46 percent were female.
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The clinic patients’ languages included English, French, Spanish and Arabic. The top three diagnoses were hypertension, diabetes and cholesterol issues, Wahba said.
Wahba said students hope the phone and video appointments expand the mobile clinic’s reach outside the Iowa City area.
Their biggest challenge, she said, has been to get the word out to the public of the free service.
Plenty of medical students are available to conduct the interviews and appointments, she said. They just need more patients.
Patients can schedule appointments by calling or texting (319) 535-2684. They can request either a phone or webcam appointment. The webcam platform they use is HIPAA compliant and simple to use on a laptop or phone.
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