Mobile health clinic model in the COVID-19 pandemic: lessons learned and opportunities for policy changes and innovation
Mobile Clinics represent an untapped resource for our healthcare system. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated its limitations. Mobile health clinic programs in the US already play important, albeit under-appreciated roles in the healthcare system. They provide access to healthcare especially for displaced or isolated individuals; they offer versatility in the setting of a damaged or inadequate healthcare infrastructure; and, as a longstanding community-based service delivery model, they fill gaps in the healthcare safety-net, reaching social-economically underserved populations in both urban and rural areas. Despite an increasing body of evidence of the unique value of this highly adaptable model of care, mobile clinics are not widely supported. This has resulted in a missed opportunity to deploy mobile clinics during national emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as using these already existing, and trusted programs to overcome barriers to access that are experienced by under-resourced communities.
In March, the Mobile Healthcare Association and Mobile Health Map, a program of Harvard Medical School’s Family Van, hosted a webinar of over 300 mobile health providers, sharing their experiences, challenges and best practices of responding to COVID 19. They demonstrated the untapped potential of this sector of the healthcare system in responding to healthcare crises. A Call to Action: The flexibility and adaptability of mobile clinics make them ideal partners in responding to pandemics, such as COVID-19. In this commentary we propose three approaches to support further expansion and integration of mobile health clinics into the healthcare system: First, demonstrate the economic contribution of mobile clinics to the healthcare system. Second, expand the number of mobile clinic programs and integrate them into the healthcare infrastructure and emergency preparedness. Third, expand their use of technology to facilitate this integration.
Understanding the economic and social impact that mobile clinics are having in our communities should provide the evidence to justify policies that will enable expansion and optimal integration of mobile clinics into our healthcare delivery system, and help us address current and future health crises.