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Q&A: Rural Health Practitioner of the Year, Larry Rhodes, MD

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, May 22, 2013

HLM: Does clinical outreach make you a better physician?

Rhodes: Yes. It forces you to do things sometimes without all the technology. [Like] when I go to a clinic where I don't have an echo machine or some of the advantages I have here. If I am seeing a patient here and I am a little confused, I can send them for a test. Frequently I can't do that in outreach clinics. I can arrange a test and have it done the next week, but I can't just send them out of the office and tell them to 'go get this test and I will see you.'

We have taken residents and med students with us to the clinics and they love it. It's like practicing medicine the way you were taught to practice—using your physical exam abilities, using simple tests like an EKG or an X-ray. It gives you a rapport with your patients.

HLM: How does the outreach experience help you better understand better patients' perspectives?

Rhodes: Look at a map of West Virginia and you see there are interstates going through the state and you say there can't be anyone who lives more than three hours from here. I have a slide that I use when I talk to medical students about rural health.

I can show you the interstates and I will ask 'how long will that take you to drive?' and a lot of them will say 'it's three hours.' Well it turns out it's five hours, because it takes almost an hour and a half to get to the interstate.

You can't see that on the Google map, but when you drive out to these places and you realize where these people are coming from, you are not angry when they miss an appointment or when they come 25- or 30-minutes late.

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