Since the beginning of the Coronavirus outbreak, healthcare systems all over the world have been grossly overburdened by the stream of patients who are suspected or confirmed to have the disease. In the U.S. alone, at the height of the pandemic, states feared the collapse of their local healthcare systems as the number of cases continues to rise.
A study done by the University of Minnesota’s COVID-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project shows that the average hospital is 90% full in 126 of 2,200 counties surveyed. Furthermore, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington determines that any capacity above 50% (or above 30% for ICU beds) is already considered under “extreme stress.”
In light of this dire situation, medical practitioners have been urged to tap into mobile medical units to augment the country’s strained healthcare system. Specifically, hospitals on wheels and mobile medical units are encouraged to utilize their mobility and bring adequate healthcare to areas that desperately need it.
Proponents stress that these vehicles must not be treated as an “alternative,” but rather an extension of the healthcare system. But aside from providing quality healthcare to far-flung areas, mobile medical units are also beneficial for practitioners as well. Below are a couple of reasons why:
Provides An Immersive Experience
It’s estimated that there are currently around 2,000 mobile medical units fulfilling the needs of at least 7 million at-risk patients every year. Given the total land area of the U.S., which is close to 3 million square miles, this means one unit must cover an estimated 1,500 square miles.
The units are self-sustaining and are equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment and a power source on a truck or van chassis. They vary in size and weight, frequently in RV or semi-trailer configuration, but some can also appear as a towed trailer. They are designed and equipped to operate even in the most remote areas where limited basic resources can be an issue.
As mentioned earlier, these units are built to augment a strained healthcare system. In 2016, a mobile medical unit was deployed to Flint, Michigan in response to lead contamination which affected over 12,000 children. It was a health emergency that would’ve taken longer if not for the effective response and deployment of a mobile medical unit.
Medical practitioners who are deployed in medical mobile units can experience a different kind of setup that has unique challenges on its own. Utmost patience and resourcefulness would be tested, but it is a truly rewarding experience—especially if treatments and procedures done inside the mobile unit turned out extremely successful.
Establishes Trust In The Community Level
A mobile medical unit that rolls into a community is a welcome sight, especially in impoverished areas. It gives the impression that medical practitioners have not abandoned the populace to their health woes. This, in turn, helps establish trust between medical practitioners and their patients.
Going back to Flint, the city has been in consistent financial decline for decades with almost half of its population living in poverty. Most residents struggle to afford quality health care in clinics and have less faith in the local healthcare system in place.
Mobile medical units are frequently used in outreach programs. These programs provide free checkups and treatment to those unable to afford such services. Therefore, it takes medical practitioners closer to community-level healthcare. It also gives them the chance to get to know patients from different kinds of socio-economic backgrounds.
The equipment that most mobile medical units carry can be configured to fulfill specific needs. These units can be configured to provide specific services like physical exams, medical testing, audiology, and mammography. They need not serve all needs at once, as their function is to supplement gaps in local healthcare systems.
Given the struggling healthcare system in the U.S., a growing number of studies and other literature are supporting the increased utilization of mobile medical units. The mobility and versatility they provide can help alleviate strained hospitals and clinics, particularly while the pandemic is ongoing. More importantly, these mobile units aid medical practitioners in reaching out to people who are in desperate need of adequate healthcare.