Health Clinic Volunteer

How would you go about improving access to healthcare in this country, especially to underserved communities?

While volunteering at a health clinic in my undergraduate years, I was able to see firsthand some of the health disparities facing the underserved communities today. On that hot Saturday morning, I observed that there was an abundance of patients, but a shortage of physicians. These conditions left physicians short on time and resources, making diagnosing a patient extremely difficult. I saw this again during my time at Western University of Health Sciences. To improve on this, it is important to welcome new physicians into the workforce. This can be done by increasing outreach programs, providing more scholarships, and administering grants to incoming medical students to foster their education and develop their skills further. Creating programs to incentivize established physicians to attend health clinics might also contribute to improving the issue.

While at these health clinics, many patients discussed how a lack of transportation and a dependency on family members caused them to not see a doctor prior to that visit. These patients, often from underserved communities, had a difficult time just getting to their doctor, so it is reasonable to suspect that those patients would not want to go unless it were a very serious issue. Something that could have been caught at an earlier stage if the patient had been able to attend yearly checkups or see a provider earlier in the course of the illness, will now be diagnosed at a later stage. In order to accommodate more patients, many physicians and urgent care centers are extending their hours. One fairly new advent that could improve patient access is the use of telemedicine. While establishing a patient connection and performing a physical exam might be harder for the provider, a patient is still able to connect with a healthcare provider and discuss any issues they are having without ever having to leave their residence. With the use of telemedicine, we may be able to connect patients to their local doctor or a physician across the country, who may be able to refer them to a physician in their area if an in-person physical exam or treatment is necessary. This may decrease wait times and exposure to certain illnesses.

Physician shortages and a lack of transportation are two issues affecting these communities…

Access to healthcare is a familiar, constant, issue that has perplexed physicians and governmental officials for decades. Even though this may continue for years to come, I still believe that there are small improvements that we can make to help patients. Underserved communities, especially minorities, warrant our care and attention. Physician shortages and a lack of transportation are two issues affecting these communities that need to be addressed on a broader scale. We, as future physicians, have the ability to change the landscape of healthcare for the upcoming generation through what we experience in our communities. Through changes in small communities, broader reforms can take place, transforming healthcare for the better.

Anushka Ramnani

Western University School of Podiatric Medicine