UI uses outreach program for rural health

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Doctors and nurses in Iowa dedicate their time and resources to travel to rural hospitals.

By Jenna Larson

jenna-larson@uiowa.edu

Some University of Iowa physicians and nurses travel to rural areas of Iowa to provide specialized care to patients in small-town hospitals. These outreach doctors and nurses help small hospitals maintain their patient income.

“Outreach is in charge of 40 percent of the patient volume in Iowa,” said Linda Lee, a UI clinical associate professor of cardiology and outreach physician at the UI Hospitals & Clinics.

“It’s a win-win for both [the outreach and small hospital]; we go down there and help with the administration with respect to cardio and help organize services,” she said.

When the outreach arrives at Mount Pleasant, Fairfield, Henry County, or Jefferson County hospitals, Lee said, it’s important to provide them with the expertise they need.

Having traveling doctors help keep hospitals current and help the patients get the proper resources, Lee said.

Another benefit of the traveling doctors is that it allows the older patients who have difficulty driving to Iowa City to stay in their local hospital, she said.

“The goal is to do care in their hometown,” Lee said.

Traveling physicians want more rural hospitals to maintain a patient stream, Lee said.

The only time patients go to Iowa City is when high-end practices — such as needing a pacemaker — are required, Lee said.

“It is a really important business model,” she said. “It maintains a level of respect for the community hospital that is providing you the clinic to go down there and provides a level of expertise in the facilities for the hospital.”

The outreach physicians are sometimes assisted by a nurse to build a patient relationship, Lee said.

Ann Mindock, a UI advanced nurse practitioner, focuses on seeing patients with vascular disease. She said she usually travels by herself and thinks doing so is more efficient.

“It is about care of the patients and promoting these small hospitals,” she said.

If Iowa did not have outreach doctors or nurses, most of the patients in the rural areas would not go to Iowa City to get help, Mindock said. For now, they can just drive to their local hospital.

Ann Aschoff, a UI nurse practitioner, said Iowa City is intimidating for those who aren’t used to the area.

“[The] primary focus is providing accessibility,” she said.

From the local hospital’s end, referring physicians is hard because they cannot recruit or maintain there, Aschoff said.

“With us, we can bring them specialty care and build a relationship with them.”

Outreach doctors and nurses also make getting in touch easier by providing patients with a phone number to get in direct contact with a nurse they have previously seen or spoken to, Lee said.

With this phone number, Mindock said, her nurse talks to them directly and assists with her travel sometimes.

The outreach’s goal at these clinics is to be there not just once a month but several days a week, Lee said.

“It’s about building really strong relationships with the physicians, the community hospital, and the community itself,” she said.

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