By Patricia Czapp, MD
“Doc, I need an MRI for my back.”
I recognized the voice immediately and turned to greet one of my favorite patients, Mr. P. There he was, smiling, leaning on his walker.
Mr. P visits me several times a day in my primary care office that is essentially in his living room. The practice itself, sized fewer than 1,000 square feet, is on the first floor of a high-rise apartment building that houses disabled and low-income adults.
My team and I provide primary care to the residents of the building (a public housing unit) and the surrounding community, a diverse population that has in common these characteristics: social isolation, low health literacy and low general literacy, a high prevalence of behavioral health problems, and limited transportation.
We came to practice in the building because our health system, Anne Arundel Medical Center, several years ago noted a high number of ED visits from individuals of one address. We visited the address to meet the residents of the building and their landlord, the local housing authority.
We found a population of individuals who were aged beyond their years, suffering from preventable complications of chronic disease and for whom a visit to the hospital met medical as well as nonmedical needs…individuals like Mr. P.
Mr. P is a man living a marginalized existence. He thrives when people take the time to listen to him, touch him, and show him that they care. For many decades , he found this comfort in the ED. When his landlord agreed to try an experiment with us, we came to practice in his building. Mr. P was one of our earliest patients.
We provide a low-cost alternative to meet his needs and do so with kindness, tolerance and generosity.
“What happened to your back, Mr. P?” I asked. “Did you fall or hurt yourself”?
“No Doctor, I Just woke up, got out of bed and it hurt real bad for a while. I could hardly stand up. ”
Rather than lecture him about the lack of medical necessity for an MRI, I accompany him to his modest apartment where we review the condition of his bed and mattress and suggest alternative ways to use pillows to support his back. Mr. P beams, “Thank you so much.” And then shuffles toward the Community Room.
If we had not been there to intercept Mr. P, he would have dialed 911. It shocks many to learn that individuals use the ED for nonmedical needs. But for some, this is the only way they feel human.
Our practice has been open for two years. In that time, we have experienced a significant decrease in medical 911 calls, ED visits, admissions and readmissions of residents of the apartment building. They have an alternative now to the ED, and we meet their social needs in their living room – one visit at a time, sometimes multiple times a day…
“Doc, I need a CT scan for my head.”
Patricia Czapp, MD was contestant of “The Best Care, The lowest cost: one idea at a time” – a collaboration between Costs of Care, Healthcare Financial Management Association, Strata Decision Technologies, and Yale-New Haven Health.