During my time in college, I volunteered at a community health clinic that provided services to uninsured members of the community. The experience showed me how free clinics are an important short-term solution to the many health care disparities that different populations face. Leaving college, I hoped to continue exploring effective methods to address the pervasive issue of healthcare inaccessibility. Serving a year with Pittsburgh Mercy Family Health Center (PMFHC) has allowed me to further explore how preventative care, including consistent health education and screenings, can effectively combat health care disparities long-term. However, I quickly learned that this issue is incredibly complex and not resolved solely through clinical practices.
A physician’s primary role is to focus on the delivering compassionate, personalized care to address and resolve a patient’s health concerns. However, the effectiveness of the physician’s recommendations is limited by a conglomerate of outside factors. While serving on the Mobile Medical Unit, I identify myriad obstacles faced while delivering healthcare services to populations challenged with homelessness and income related barriers including housing, food, and employment instability. Although resolving these issues would facilitate access to care, one of the most pressing barriers to healthcare is the availability of health insurance. Without proper health insurance, patients are burdened with the high costs of healthcare and prescriptions. In low-income communities, these costs often shatter opportunities to receive longitudinal care or basic medications, thus rendering physician recommendations ineffective.
Assisting patients in navigating the complexities of the healthcare system, which includes obtaining sufficient health insurance, lies outside the current role of physicians. However, patients cannot feasibly utilize health services without addressing these outstanding issues. To achieve equitable healthcare, we must consider that patient-centered care surpasses the clinical realm and must include the implications of health policy, economics, and technology. This year I’ve had the privilege of joining the PMFHC Care Management team which is only one player in the multifaceted team-based approach that Pittsburgh Mercy has adopted to ensure best possible outcomes for all of our patients. I’ve witnessed how effective primary care depends on Health-Benefits Coordinators who assist in insurance enrollment, service coordinators who ensure that patients are attending follow-ups and taking medications properly, and care managers who assist patients in scheduling specialty appointments. Although medicine might seem like isolated experiences between a physician and patient, serving as a Health Navigator has shown me the importance of adopting a team-based approach to deliver effective healthcare and to work towards achieving equitable health outcomes for all.
This post was written by NPHC member Helina Gan.
Helina serves at Pittsburgh Mercy Family Health Center as a Patient Navigator.