As the world becomes faster, more agile, and more interconnected our healthcare system has been evolving to meet the moment. One way in which health systems across the country have been adapting to changing medical care preferences is through the deployment and operation of mobile medical clinics. It may sound like a weird idea, and maybe you haven’t heard of them or seen them in your community, but mobile medical clinics have been taking health care by storm in the last decade. In this guide we’ll go through all of the basics: what a mobile medical clinic is,  the business opportunity, the sort of training you need to run one, the associated fees for certifications and equipment, and helpful organizations that will make running a mobile medical clinic easier and more lucrative.

What is a Mobile Medical Clinic?

Mobile medical clinics, also known as mobile health clinics (MHCs), are customized vehicles that travel to the “heart of communities” to provide both high quality reactive and preventive care where people “work, live, and play”. The Health Hut is a great example to help give you a better picture. They’re able to set up shop in a number of convenient locations to operate as a health center in underserved communities. They provide a range of health care services ranging from primary care to urgent care to mental health services. From chronic disease management to preventative care to social services, mobile medical clinics have proved to be an innovative model of healthcare delivery. Mobile clinics are present in all sorts of communities from big cities to rural areas to small suburbs. The biggest advantage of a mobile medical clinic is its flexibility of operation. It’s often the case that patients are not able to travel to a hospital, or in the case of rural communities may not have one even remotely close by. MHCs solve this issue by meeting the patient where they are to provide medical services. It’s said that MHCs “overcome barriers of time, money, and trust.” They play a crucial role in serving medical to vulnerable populations with health disparities like minorities, low-income neighborhoods, the homeless, and children. MHCs are often refitted recreational vehicles (RV) or other large vehicles that can hold the equipment and staff necessary to be operational.

What’s the business opportunity? Why all the buzz?

As we discussed, MHCs solve the crucial issue of patients being unable to access a doctor due to geography or time. About 12.4% of the population in the United States currently struggles to see a doctor. To give some context, that’s almost 40.7 million people who could be reached using a mobile model of medical service. This is a huge target market, even when segmented to certain geographies, that business owners can capitalize on while providing an essential service. MHCs have also been shown to have the potential to take over many unnecessary emergency room visits, which helps hospitals prioritize care by lessening the load on emergency departments. What’s more, MHCs are thought to be a solution to the problem of getting people to show up for follow-up appointments. This opens up even more of a target market. The return on investment of an MHC is estimated at $12 per $1 invested (some estimates even go as high as $30!!). In light of all this, mobile medical clinics have been gaining traction in the healthcare system at an aggressive pace in the last decade. In 2015, it was estimated that there were 1,500-2,000 mobile medical clinics in the US alone, and these clinics received well over 5 million visits in that year. Evidence shows that MHCs can produce significant healthcare cost savings that can help healthcare systems operate a more cost-effective model of care delivery. Large health insurance companies like Highmark have adopted MHCs in their system, and their use is only expanding. Community organizations have been opening community health clinics (like The Family Van), employers have been contracting MHCs to come to their place of work, government insurers like Medicare and Medicaid have adopted MHC care into their coverage – this space is becoming very exciting. There’s a huge opportunity here for entrepreneurs and healthcare professionals who meet the moment and invest in this new(ish) model of care.

What kind of training do you need?

First and foremost, it’s important to remember that MHCs provide professional healthcare services. So when building your team, you’ll have to look for qualified and licensed medical professionals. This could include physicians, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, clinical technicians, and more. The Mobile Health Chicago mobile medical clinic, for example, has 2 nurse practitioners, 2 medical assistants, and 1 clinic technician. Depending on the types of care and populations that you’re targeting, you may not want “traditional” healthcare providers. MHCs often incorporate social workers, mental health therapists, and caseworkers into their models of care to serve the communities in which they operate. The Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Understanding and Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care, a leading voice on many issues in healthcare that also focuses on MHCs, strongly recommend that those operating MHCs invest in high-quality training in the following three things:

  • Language Training: Many of the underserved populations that MHCs are used to serve don’t speak English as a first language or struggle with spoken communication. It’s important that your staff have at least one person on-site who can speak the primary language of the community that you’re targeting. Language training programs can help develop basic language skills with a focus on medical care to make your MHC more accessible and welcoming.
  • Cultural Competency: Many communities don’t trust medical institutions because they don’t feel welcomed or respected and because they are unable to form a connection with their healthcare providers. Cultural competence training can help to close the gap between patients and providers to create a more positive experience. Cultural competency programs can help you conduct needs-based assessments of your target market that will inform your training needs. This webpage from the US Department of Health and Human Services has lots of excellent resources to help you explore this important issue.
  • Patient-CenteredCare Focused on Education and Empowerment: Mobile health clinics play an important role both in putting the patient first in the health system and educating patients so that they can live happier, healthier lives outside of the healthcare system.

What are the costs involved in opening a Mobile Medical Clinic?

The biggest source of costs is the vehicle itself and its maintenance. The vehicle costs start around $300,000, and the average estimate for yearly costs of running an MHC program is around $437,000. Equipment can also be a huge cost, but it really depends on the type of care that your MHC is delivering. To give some context, surveys show that 42% of MHCs offer primary care, 45% offer prevention screenings, and 30% offer dental services. MHCscan also offer a large range of other services including things like mammography. If you’re running a dental MHC, your equipment needs will be much different than that of an MHC offering mental health counseling. Cost considerations have to be made on a case-by-case basis. Odulair, a mobile clinic manufacturer, is a great resource to explore the types of costs you will be facing when opening and running an MHC.

Some Resources for New Entrants:

These resources are a collection of mobile health clinic focused organizations that can be invaluable in your venture:

  • Mobile Health MapCreated by the Mobile Health Clinics Association, this organization helps MHC owners track performance and leverage industry best practices.
  • Healthy PeopleThis national health promotion program, focused on reducing inequality in health, is a great resource for understanding the needs of certain populations and for finding resources for cultural competency and other training.
  • Aleph Group and Odulair: These companies both are in the business of building and helping operate MHCs. The free resources on their respective websites can help give you a lot of insight into the industry and into how MHCs operate.

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