MedZou gears up to open doors to uninsured patients

Thursday, September 25, 2008 | 4:33 p.m. CDT; updated 12:16 p.m. CDT, Friday, September 26, 2008

COLUMBIA — MedZou, a free clinic staffed by students and professors from the MU School of Medicine, is gearing up to open in October, but it will only serve uninsured patients.

The clinic has yet to decide on a date to start operations but hopes to have the facility ready by the first week of October and to start seeing patients soon after. There are plans for an official opening event in November.

Besides restricting services to uninsured patients, the clinic has made other changes to its previous plans. All patients must be on the waiting list at the Family Health Center before receiving an appointment at MedZou.

Non-Boone County residents, too, can make use of the services at the free clinic as long as they are on the waiting list of the Family Health Center.

"This system will ensure that all patients are eventually seen at a permanent, highly-qualified health care center," said Kayla Schleicher, one of the four student directors of MedZou.

The Family Health Center currently does not have a waiting list after recruiting two physicians and a nurse practitioner since May, said Gloria Crull, executive director of the Family Health Center. But the center expects a waiting list will develop soon because there is a higher percentage of uninsured patients in Boone County than in Missouri, Crull said.

"Not all have established medical care, and there is an existing unmet need," she said.

Crull said 12.2 percent of Boone County residents, or around 18,300 people, do not have insurance. In 2007, the Family Health Center saw a total number of 11,637 persons in 2007, 35 percent of whom were uninsured, Crull said.

The purpose of MedZou is to accommodate people who have failed to establish primary health care and give the students hands-on practice in medicine under the supervision of physicians.

"It has been difficult for Family Health Center to accommodate all of the patients seeking to establish care due to a limited number of provider staff," Crull said.

MedZou will be located on Wilkes Boulevard in a building space donated by the Central Missouri Community Action. The 101 Orange bus has a stop at Wilkes Boulevard and Providence Road close to the clinic location.

"For security purposes and to protect the privacy of our patients, we will not release the exact address at this time," Schleicher said. "This information will be readily available to patients as they make appointments."

MedZou will operate similar to other outpatient clinics. It will have the ability to perform diagnostic laboratory testing for the patients and to prescribe medications. The students will also counsel patients about healthy lifestyles.

All patients will be seen by a licensed physician. Eleven physicians from the Department of Family and Community Medicine have committed to volunteering so far. They will make the final diagnostic and treatment decisions since students are not allowed to practice medicine. Patients who require emergency care will be sent to to the emergency room.

The medical students will conduct patient interviews, obtain medical histories, assist in physical examinations and work with physicians to develop a diagnosis.  They will also take care of the administrative details and accounting.

The clinic intends to work along with existing health care and community resources. "We took on this project with the intention to integrate MedZou into the existing social networks in Columbia and have worked with many community organizations to do so," said Emily Doucette, a student director. "We have received help and support from the Boone County Health Department, the Family Health Center, Central Missouri Community Action, Centro Latino and more.  We have also developed relationships with many of the Health Professions Schools at MU."

With specific testings, such as sexually transmitted diseases testing, the clinic will refer a suspected STD patient to the Health Department that provides free testing to Boone County residents. "We plan to offer pregnancy tests when necessary, but pregnant women are able to obtain insurance through Medicaid. Once a woman is identified as being pregnant, we will help her with the appropriate paperwork for Medicaid qualification and she will be seen at the Family Health Center immediately for appropriate prenatal care," said Schleicher.

Nearly 100 medical students had attended the MedZou training sessions. Dr. Deb Howenstine, Dr. Joe LeMaster and Dr. Erik Lindbloom will act as advisers. The clinic has also received "overwhelming support and volunteer pledges from non-medical students," said Schleicher. The clinic plans to include volunteers from the School of Nursing, School of Health Professions (physical therapy and occupational therapy), School of Social Work, as well as pre-medical undergraduate students.

Other health professionals in the community, such as nurse practitioners, emergency medical technicians, laboratory managers and pathologists, have also extended support. Many of them responded after reading a previous article on MedZou in the Columbia Missourian. Nurses and the emergency medical technicians have volunteered to work in the hospital. Laboratory professionals have extended their expertise to develop MedZou's own laboratory.

The clinic is currently financed by a variety of sources. It recently received a grant from the Association of American Medical Colleges, called the Caring for Community Grant, worth $30,000 over the course of four years.

The student directors refused to divulge the funding received from MU Medical School but said the funding will be renewed annually.

"The Medical School has been extremely generous with their support," Schleicher said. "We do not want to jeopardize this relationship by publicly disclosing details of a professional financial transaction."

The clinic also got donations from individuals within the community and is planning fundraisers. "We are also investigating future grant opportunities to further enhance our clinic's services. We also welcome personal donations," Schleicher said.

Uninsured patients often find it difficult to access prescription drugs. To combat the problem, the clinic has arranged a system with Kilgore's Pharmacy through which the patients can pick up necessary prescribed medicine at their convenience and the clinic will be billed for the cost.

The clinic will operate from 5 to 9 p.m. on Thursdays.

"We hope to eventually see 16 patients per session," Schleicher said. "We have chosen to schedule patients with longer appointments than other clinics in order to ensure that all patients receive thorough multi-dimensional care, including complete one-on-one educational sessions and social work consultations."

Donations may be sent to the: University of Missouri Medical School Foundation, Inc. One Hospital Drive - DC205.00 Columbia, MO 65212 Phone: 882-5371 Checks: Payable to The University of Missouri Medical School Foundation

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