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BayCare rolls out healthcare on wheels for busy workers

Margie Manning

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BayCare uses a state-of the art mobile bus with the full capabilities of a doctor’s office to provide wellness visits on the jobsite.

BayCare Health Systems has launched a new service for workers who can’t – or won’t – go to the doctor for a checkup.

The health system will bring the doctor to them.

BayCare Employer Solutions and BayCare Medical Group rolled out PCP 2 You, an initiative that helps provide access to primary care services for workers at local businesses. BayCare bought and equipped a state-of-the-art mobile bus with the full capabilities of a brick and mortar doctor’s office that can be driven to a company’s office so workers can get annual health and wellness exams.

Many workers forgo that annual visit, even though it’s covered by the health insurance their employer provides, said Donna St. Louis, vice president for business development at BayCare.

“People get busy at work. They don’t want to take time out of their day to get in their car and drive to the doctor’s office. We’re bringing the doctor’s office right to your doorstep so there’s no excuse,” St. Louis said.

Employers pay for insurance that provides preventative care because it is cost-effective. Catching and treating a chronic condition early can save money before a patient requires hospitalization.

BayCare’s PCP 2 You program launched recently after a couple of years of planning.

“We decided two years ago that it would be a benefit to the community and our employers that if we could put a doctor on a bus with an outfitted medical office it would benefit people who never go to the physician on a regular basis, and tend to get their health care through the emergency room,” St. Louis said. “As healthcare costs were rising, we thought if can catch some of these people and get them established with a physician in their area, maybe they’ll take note and will seek a physician on an annual basis.” 

St. Petersburg College was one of the first employers to receive the service. The bus traveled to SPC’s main campus at 6605 5th Ave. N. in St. Petersburg Thursday, one day after visiting SPC’s Seminole campus.

“As a physician, it’s exciting to bring our services to people in a convenient, safe and efficient way,” said Dr. Brandon Steinberg, a BayCare Medical Group primary care physician who saw patients at the Seminole campus. “The bus is set up like a primary care clinic. We’re able to check the patient’s vitals and perform a physical wellness exam quickly, and, if needed, do follow-up visits into our clinic and send them for further testing and evaluations.”

Dr. Brandon Steinberg, primary care physician with BayCare Medical Group, performs a physical wellness visit for Barbara Weaver, student life and leadership coordinator at St. Petersburg College.

There’s no difference between the cost of an exam on the bus and an exam in a brick and mortar office, but a challenge has been getting managed care companies and other insurers to see the benefit of the mobile visits.

“When we launched this, several of the insurers decided to discount the reimbursement they pay our doctors,” St. Louis said. “We’ve been working with the big payers and some of them realize the benefits and others we’ll keep working on until they do.”

Wellness visits are fully covered by insurance at no cost to the patients, but follow-ups typically are not. For those, BayCare encourages patients to go to a physician in a brick and mortar office near the employer’s worksite.

“[The mobile office] is not going to take the place of a physician’s office. We still have brick and mortar, and now we have wheels and gas,” St. Louis said.

The bus allows BayCare to provide access to underserved populations in the four counties in which it has a presence — Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk — including in outlying areas where it might be difficult to find a primary care physician. It’s also expected to serve workers on the job at construction sites, shipyards and mines, among others.

“The thought was to go to those places and let them see a physician and hopefully get established with a physician, so that if we were able to find an underlying disease state we could treat it, such as hypertension, cardiac disease, diabetes and obesity,” she said.

A physician on the bus can handle about 15 patients a day, the same as in a brick and mortar office. Pandemic safety is paramount. The bus is set up in open parking spaces. Patients pre-register outside before completing their visits. Only the physician and medical assistant are in the bus with the patient, and team members and patients are also required to wear masks at all times. The bus is cleaned between patient visits.

BayCare has one mobile bus now, but St. Louis hopes to add more next year.

“If we can show the value I don’t think we’ll have any trouble getting another bus,” she said.

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