Mobile health clinic aims to cut health care costs

Mobile health clinic aims to cut health care costs

Marion County's public health agencies are quite literally trying to drive down rising health care costs. They are taking routine health care into neighborhoods with new a Mobile Health Clinic. The idea is to cut down on the number of people taking ambulances to emergency rooms.

A routine blood pressure check, an exam most of us take for granted, brought Ransonia Johnson to tears. 

"It's beautiful," she said wiping her eyes. "Yes. It really is. Thank you."

Ransonia was among the first patients taking advantage of the new Eskenazi Health Center.  It is the city's first doctor's office on wheels. 

Nancy Buxser, Eskenazi Health Center C.O.O., is one of the driving forces behind it. She said with confidence, "Our goal is we want to be there for the people."

The patients she's referring to have limited incomes, and they may not have doctors, insurance, reliable transportation, and often don't seek medical attention until it's an emergency. As a result, their health care costs tend to be higher than patients who have better health care access.

"We can manage and control chronic disease so that the cost of caring for them is less. We keep them out of the hospital and out of the emergency rooms," explained Buxser.

The new mobile clinic will operate four or five days a week, making scheduled stops at selected housing complexes. There are two exam rooms, a rest room and an area for filling out forms and answering basic health care questions.

Almost any exam or treatment that can be done in a real doctor's office can be done in the rolling clinic.

On Tuesday, the doctor's office on wheels was parked outside Lugar Tower, a downtown public housing community. So far this year there have been more than 100 ambulance runs to this address.

Iran Walton has high blood pressure.  A medical tech checked his vital signs and prescriptions.  If not for this help, he said, "I would be going to Wishard, to the pharmacy."  And maybe the emergency room? "Yes," he said.

A trip to the emergency room for flu shots, checkups, prescription renewals, and other non-emergencies can cost the public health care system about $1,000 a visit.

The same treatments in the mobile clinic, administrators estimate costs about $200. There may be even larger savings in the long run because medical help is so convenient and so close to home. 

"It's right on the property," said Charles Blue. "I don't have to travel." So you can get checked more often? "Yes," he answered without hesitation.

The city's health and hospital corporation bought the mobile clinic from a Virginia health care provider. It was brand new, but never put in service, so it sold at a discounted "used" price of $210,000. 

Learn more about changes coming to your health care here.