Mobile Health Clinics: Reducing Disparities, Improving Care

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Mobile clinics bring health services directly to those who need it most. There are 1,500 – 2,000 mobile clinics nationwide. The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration funds more than 200 mobile clinics through its Community Health, Healthcare for the Homeless, Migrant Health and Public Housing programs.

In September 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health supported Harvard Medical School and the Mobile Health Clinics Association to bring together mobile clinics across the U.S. through Mobile Health Map, a first-of-its-kind collaborative research network. This project has been received with enthusiasm by mobile clinic providers and the media, as well as by federal, academic and other stakeholders. As of September 2012, there were more than 500 participating mobile clinics, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health. Based on this collaboration, it is possible to describe the scope and impact of the mobile clinic sector in the U.S.

  1. Mobile clinics improve access to health services in underserved communities across the country.
  2. There are 1,500 – 2,000 mobile clinics nationally receiving 5 to 6.5 million visits annually.
  3. Mobile clinics operate in every state across the country, plus D.C and Puerto Rico. They serve communities that have the poorest access to health services in the U.S. — rural communities as well as urban communities (15 percent of clinics serve rural clients, 42 percent serve urban and 44 percent serve both); the uninsured and lower-income individuals (57 percent of visits are by uninsured and 35 percent are by publicly insured) and minorities (35 percent of visits are by individuals that identify as non-white, while 45 percent are by individuals identifying as Hispanic or Latino).
  4. Mobile clinics reach males as well as females (46 percent of visits by males and 54 percent of visits by females). They reach all ages (of all visits, 41 percent are from individuals under 18, 50 percent from those aged 18-65 and 9 percent from those above 65).
  5. Mobile health clinics (MHC) are shown to be effective in reaching high-risk or stigmatized populations, such as the homeless and individuals with multiple risk factors for diseases, and are able to attract different sectors of society to engage in screenings for various illnesses. A study comparing a MHC with a comparable traditional clinic found that the percentage of clients who agreed to undergo HIV screening was higher at the MHC (54.4 percent in MHC vs. 7.1 percent in traditional clinics), and the percentage of HIV tests that turned out positive was also higher at the MHC (5.4 percent in MHC vs, 2 percent in traditional clinic), indicating that MHCs facilitate more HIV screenings and are more efficient at reaching high-risk populations. Because of their ability to connect with vulnerable individuals, MHCs can help identify additional cases of infectious and chronic diseases in a nontraditional setting.