While the pandemic taxes the health care system and medical bills tax people’s wallets, Ohio State medical students are offering relief at the Columbus Free Clinic.
The student-run clinic, open Thursdays at the Ohio State Thomas E. Rardin Family Practice Center at the corner of North High Street and Northwood Avenue, offers educational resources and health care services at no cost to patients. Molly McNamara, a second-year medical student, said the clinic strives to fill a gap for underserved patients experiencing barriers to health care, such as non-comprehensive services or inadequate insurance.
“We hope to be that clinic that offers those services for people, but also can kind of be a bridge for people to get into more permanent care,” McNamara said.
McNamara is one of 12 medical students on the clinic’s executive board. The board oversees all operations of the clinic, including speciality services, volunteering, finances, patient referrals and patient outreach.
Havi Rosen, a second-year medical student and executive board member, said the clinic offers general healthcare resources — long-term and urgent primary care, on-site laboratory services and a pharmacy — along with specialty services, including psychiatry, women’s health care, physical and occupational therapy, and urology. The clinic also offers nonmedical resources such as social work services and free legal counseling with a law student and volunteer attorneys.
The clinic accepts all patients age 18 and older but does not offer COVID-19 tests or treatment, according to the clinic website. It also refers patients to outside specialists and works with them to manage costs and provide financial assistance, Rosen said.
“We are really trying to take into account what patients need and really trying to work within their needs by delivering the services for them,” Rosen said.
Rosen said volunteers running the clinic consist of medical, social work and pharmacy graduate students and medical professionals — primarily from Ohio State and Ohio Health — who work together to create a patient plan based on the primary health concerns the patient notes when requesting an appointment.
Undergraduate students also volunteer at the clinic, assisting with patient check-in and other administrative duties, such as uploading patient information and organizing electronic health records, Rosen said.
“We’re very blessed with the amount of continued dedication and time commitment that people continue to provide for the clinic,” Rosen said.
Over the past few months, COVID-19 impacted the way the clinic operates; in March, it stopped in-person appointments, reduced patient capacity and moved to virtual services. Rosen said the clinic’s goal at the time was to ensure as many patients as possible were able to access and manage their health care during the pandemic.
“We were thinking of everything that we can to accommodate to the changing times, with the understanding that we’ll try it for this week, and if it doesn’t work we can always adjust, with that constant adaptability mindset,” Rosen said.
Rosen said the virtual clinic offers a similar model to in-person appointments, conducting patient appointments either by phone or video using Updox, a HIPAA-compliant telehealth service, and patients still working with medical students and providers to make plans for their health concerns.
Hybrid services began July 2, when the in-person clinic and specialty services reopened and allowed for an approach of both on-site and online resources. Rosen said she hopes to continue with this hybrid approach in order to reach a larger scope of patients in the coming months.
McNamara said appointment duration varies based on the complexity of the patient’s issue, but most last about an hour.
“It’s really driven by what kind of different services we need to coordinate and also just how concerning what they are presenting with is and what the physician kind of feels the need to do,” McNamara said.
The clinic relies on several funding sources, including grants from the community and various nonprofit organizations, partnerships with Ohio State and various donations, to offer its services free of charge for patients, Rosen said.
Rosen said the clinic aims to equip patients with the right knowledge to move beyond the clinic’s services and to serve as an educational and collaborative experience for volunteers and the community.
“We really provide a well-rounded, encompassing experience for everyone that walks through the door, with the aim of having patients leave our doors feeling like they know what’s going on and they are a part of the health care decision,” Rosen said.
The Columbus Free Clinic is open Thursdays from 6- p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at 2231 N.orth High Street. Patients can sign up for appointments on the clinic’s website from Friday morning to noon Sunday.