By Sheraz Qamar
Over the past nine weeks, I have learned a great deal about what it is like to be a healthcare provider for under-served and minority populations, especially those without health insurance. Many patients that come to the clinic are self-paying; for this reason, the doctor is always looking for ways to assist patients financially by providing coupons for pharmacies and giving free samples of expensive medication. He is always looking for the best and cheapest options for his patients. During the end of the first month, the doctor told me that the clinic usually sees less patients at the end of each month due to the fact that many patients have to pay rent at that time and are unable to spend money on healthcare services.
As I typed notes for the doctor and assisted with billing procedures, I was also able to learn about the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) codes needed for billing purposes. Each assessment, such as hyperlipidemia, joint pain, and even regular physical exams, has an ICD code that is needed in order to get paid from insurance companies. This was the first time that I had been introduced to ICD codes and how they are used in a clinical setting. Based on each assessment, the doctor also ordered blood work, therapeutic injections, or other tests that were done in another room at the clinic. The lab room was where blood samples are collected and sent to LabCorp, who conduct an analysis and send the results back to the clinic. This was very convenient for patients as they were able to get everything done in one visit. The doctor also has an electrocardiogram (EKG) machine in a different room, and I was able to observe how the wired connections were attached to the human body in order to measure the electrical activity of the heart. I learned how to analyze EKGs as well in order to detect any abnormality.
Just last week, I learned that many single mothers come to the clinic with their children. Since the doctor is extremely kind and playful with the children, these children begin to see the doctor as a father figure and become really attached. This shows what role physicians play in society, especially as role models for the younger generation who can be easily influenced by the environment. The health studies courses I took at Haverford also addressed socioeconomic factors that can influence the health of children, and I believe that doctors can play a major role in intervention before children are introduced to drugs and violence.
As I shadowed and scribed for the doctor, I was able to learn a lot about different problems that patients come with. I met a variety of patients: some came in for a simple physical exam while others came in with abdominal and back pain. I even met a patient who seemed to be addicted to narcotics. Since almost every patient spoke Spanish, I was not able to understand their conversations, but the doctor would always explain the patient’s problems. I was also able to learn about what prescriptions the doctor gave for basic diagnoses such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes.
Overall, this experience not only taught me about basic assessments and treatments, but also about serving underserved and minority populations who may not have the resources to afford health care and insurance. I learned that family medicine physicians need to be ready for any problem a patient comes in with, and this may require extra research if a problem persists after initial treatment. I have gained so much more respect for the medical field after these two months with the doctor, and I hope that I am also able to serve humanity as a physician in the near future.