By Dr. Rob McNab, Freeman Health System Vice President of Medical Education & Director of COVID Unit
During the early months of the pandemic, Freeman Health System was screening a large number of community members for COVID-19 through the drive-thru testing site and via the emergency department and Freeman Urgent Care. Many of those patients had no primary care doctor to follow up with and provide for their acute needs if they developed issues. To combat the situation, the emergency medicine and internal medicine programs collaborated and addressed that need.
The emergency medicine residents would reach out via a phone call to the patients who did not have primary care providers and inform the patients of their diagnosis and ensure they were doing well. Patients would then be scheduled for a telemedicine visit at the Freeman Academic Internal Medicine Clinic (AIM clinic). There, the internal medicine residents became the primary care physicians for these patients—monitoring their condition and providing for their changing needs.
Residents also play a role in the acute care arena. When a patient presents to Freeman for care, the internal medicine and emergency medicine residents are on the front line of providing care for COVID-19 patients. Our residents are actively involved in the work-up and treatment of our patients at Freeman, from the beginning of their emergency room visit to their discharge from the hospital. This includes COVID-19 patients being cared for in our isolation units.
Congress created the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) program more than 10 years ago to help expand the primary care physician workforce in medically underserved areas. It is due to expire on November 30, 2020.
I am in full support of the THCGME program and any other programs that focus on training future generations of physicians to address the needs of rural and underserved communities.
Approximately 97% of the land in Missouri is designated as rural! For those citizens who live in rural areas, access to excellent care is a challenge. There has been no increase in traditional CMS funding for medical education since 1996, but since that time, Joplin’s population has grown from 40,000 to 51,000 (0.59% per year). The THCGME program and programs like it help provide the resources to train and recruit physicians to address the care of a growing population of patients.
While hands-on, real-world experience is a critical part of a hospital residency, the stellar performance of the nation’s THC medical residents during the COVID-19 pandemic should convince Congress to immediately enact the multi-year extension for the THCGME program. Our nation’s healthcare safety net is stronger today due to investments in the THCGME program.