AHEC - North Carolina Area Health Education Centers Program

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Community Resources

Specialty Clinics

NC AHEC-Supported Specialty Clinics Serve More Than 24,000 patients annually

A child in Whiteville has seizures, headaches, or cerebral palsy. An elderly patient from Burgaw has Parkinson's disease. Where can these individuals turn for help with problems such as these? They can take off time from work and drive up to two and a half hours away for specialized assistance at an academic medical center or they can visit an AHEC-supported outreach specialty clinic.

Michael Tennison, MD, is one of four pediatric neurologists from UNC Hospitals who travel to Wilmington twice a month to see patients in need of such specialty care. Last year more than 800 patients received care as a result. The sessions are held at New Hanover Regional Medical Center and allow the specialists to work in close collaboration with area physicians, nurses, and other providers. “This has resulted in substantial improvements in the care of epilepsy in the area,” noted Tennison. “In the past, patients would drive to Chapel Hill to have the (EEG) device placed, drive back home, then repeat the round-trip after 24-48 hours for further testing.”

Sickle cell disease patients in Laurinburg and surrounding areas who require specialty care in hematology are seen by Duke University Medical Center’s Ivy Altomare, MD.

Since the early 1970s, the NC AHEC Program has supported specialty clinics offered by faculty from the academic medical centers in North Carolina as a means to increase the availability of specialty care and to offer educational experiences for students, residents, practicing physicians, and other local health care providers.

In 2009-2010, AHEC-supported faculty served more than 24,000 patients in over 1,000 sessions across the state. Specialty clinics are given in dermatology, gastroenterology, geriatrics, GI/herpes, infectious diseases, ob/gyn, oncology, orthopedics, pediatric cardiology, pediatric endocrinology, pediatric gastroenterology, pediatric genetics, pediatric hematology/oncology, pediatric neurology, pediatric rheumatology, pulmonary pediatrics, and psychiatry.

“These clinics provide both a valuable service to patients and to physicians and other providers working in these communities,” said NC AHEC Director Tom Bacon, DrPH. Having specialty services available locally allows primary care physicians to offer more comprehensive care in their community. “Because they work as a team with the specialists to manage complex problems, they feel less isolated professionally,” Bacon continued. “As such, the specialty services act as a recruitment and retention tool for bringing more providers to the local community and also improve the quality of care.”