School of Medicine uses mobile health clinic to serve hard-to-reach populations, improve research

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine has launched a new program which will expand both the research and clinical capabilities of the University.

March  15, 2011 --  The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine has launched a new program which will expand both the research and clinical capabilities of the University.  Health on Wheels uses a mobile health unit with a fully equipped exam room to reach under-served and rural populations across the state.

The centerpiece of the program is a converted Dodge Sprinter with a small, but well-appointed, clinic in the back.  It has an exam table, centrifuge, cryoshipper and other basic exam room features. This compact, easy-to-operate mobile unit will enable members of the University community to conduct basic medical interventions in unconventional places such as bus stops, parking lots and elementary schools.

UNC draws patients and study participants from throughout the state.  For many, travel to Chapel Hill presents a logistical and/or financial hardship.  The Health on Wheels program was started by the Division of Infectious Diseases at UNC to improve access to care for hard-to-reach populations and to assist with statewide HIV prevention and treatment research studies.

“North Carolinians who can’t travel to our clinics in the Triangle area need options,” said Michele Bailey, who is program coordinator for Health on Wheels. “Clinical trials are not right for everyone, but with the mobile unit we can offer the option of a trial to a lot more people,” she said.  “And more options are always good.”

In February, the mobile clinic was used by an outreach team to administer flu vaccinations  in Durham. They vaccinated children and their parents at an elementary school and additional people at the downtown bus station and in the parking lot of a local grocery store.

"HOW made it possible for us to reach people who would not otherwise have gone to a health clinic for flu vaccinations, " said Arlene Seña-Soberano, MD, MPH, who is medical director at the Durham County Health Department and associate professor of medicine at the UNC School of Medicine.

The Health on Wheels program will also allow for more efficient health interventions by eliminating some of the issues of space, set up, and resources. “Groups can rent the mobile unit, arrange a time and place, and show up,” Bailey said.  “It’s a very versatile unit.”

The mobile unit has already proven its versatility.  In addition to vaccinations, screenings and health fairs, the unit has been used in Warren County as part of a nutrition and metabolic disorders study and for HIV prevention and treatment studies in several counties in the Triangle and beyond.

UNC researchers, clinicians and their collaborators interested in using the unit should contact Program Coordinator Michele Bailey at michele_bailey@med.unc.edu or (919) 843-8604.

To find out more about the program and see a slide show of the mobile unit, visit the Health on Wheels website at www.med.unc.edu/healthonwheels.


Division of Infectious Diseases contact: Lisa Chensvold, (919) 843-5719 or lisa_chensvold@med.unc.edu