The importance of free volunteer health clinics in Illinois

Volunteer clinics play an important role in providing medical services to persons who for a variety of reasons are unable to obtain access to the health care system. There are several such clinics in Illinois, in different locations, serving different communities, each differently and operating in different environments. As one may expect, their needs vary considerably:

Physicians.   Some clinics experience a shortage of volunteer doctors and can be helped by recruiting new ones. Such volunteer activities in medicine go back to the Middle Ages, and medicine has a long tradition of helping to serve the poor. Pooling together the resources of several organizations provides an opportunity to involve doctors in helping resolve disparities in healthcare.

Administrative support.  Already several groups of medical students have been active in helping staff voluntary clinics and provide administrative support, organizing galas, and raising funds. It is desirable to take advantage of the enthusiasm of these groups and support them in their endeavors.

Education. In several clinics students see and evaluate patients coming to be treated and then present their findings to voluntary attendings in the format traditionally used during their clerkships. They thus acquire clinical experience in a setting not necessarily available in their particular medical school

Ability to apply for supporting  grants, using the resources of some of the participating institutions in grant writing and management, as well as applying for the competitive grants offered by others.

Improve patient care.  Some clinics buy patient medicines and need help to facilitate this process. Some clinics treat many diabetics, but have only oral medications, hence many of their patients are uncontrolled and have high hemoglobin A1c levels. The need insulin, and they need nurses or other arrangements so they can be taught to give themselves injections and monitor their blood sugar.

Referral to specialists  Only some clinics have developed networks allowing them to refer patients for specialist consultations, procedures, x-rays, gynecological problems, and psychiatry. As others are lacking such arrangements, they may be helped by developing networks where complicated patients may be referred for evaluation and treatment.

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