Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Reaching Out

This past Sunday, I volunteered at a blood pressure screening event organized by the Ethnic Health Institute (EHI), an outreach group associated with Alta Bates Summit Hospital. The first thing I came away with, after a long morning of measuring blood pressures at two large, African-American churches, was a complete love of outreach work. Some people whose pressures I took hadn't been to see a doctor in years. It's not that people aren't concerned about their health; it's just that they don't have the time, don't have the insurance coverage, or don't know the best way of navigating to HMO system to be able to see someone who can respond to their concerns in a respectful manner.

Which is where outreach comes in. In this revolutionary service, the health care providers go to the people, instead of the other way around. People who haven't been able to receive services suddenly find them stepping on their toes.

Outreach services have some added bonuses, which I discovered this weekend. One is that the sites where outreach services is delivered -- churches, in this case -- are much happier places than hospitals. I loved chatting with folks as they came out of church happy, talkative, and full of the music of their choirs. It also allows the providers a glimpse into the worlds of their clients. The biological world has intimate linkages to the psychosocial world, and any deeper understanding a physician can gain into this latter world will help her understand her patients' medical conditions.

Finally, I came away with a little excitement, and maybe some fear, at being looked at as a professional. I hadn't anticipated that, sitting on the other side of the table and wearing a name tag, I would be treated as an expert. People hung on every word I said, clutched the pamphlets I handed them, shook my hand. It made me think more about how I phrased my words and what I emphasized. It's not every day that someone listens to what I'm saying.

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