Clínica Médicos: An Unassuming Clinic Is Reinventing Community Healthcare In Chattanooga, Tennessee
In theory, going to see a doctor should be an easy and affordable process. In practice, unfortunately, navigating healthcare is complex and time consuming, causing many to put off clinic visits, filling prescriptions, or preventing them from adhering to medical advice.
To make matters worse, social barriers, such as language comprehension, high cost of care, travel to clinics and pharmacies, and limited access to green spaces and healthy foods, further complicate a patient’s ability to receive quality care. This is particularly true of people of color, which numerous studies have shown fare worse compared to white Americans across a range of health measures, and are more likely to be subject to discrimination in medical care.
Clearly, our “one size fits all” approach to medicine has left many patients and medical providers at a loss. But, new models are emerging establishing innovative methods for physicians to administer care, particularly to the underserved and uninsured.
One such model can be found in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where Clínica Médicos is providing comprehensive care and services for the community’s large Latino population. On this week’s episode of A Second Opinion podcast, I sit down with Dr. Kelly Arnold who founded the clinic over six years ago. Her mission: to create the best and most accessible healthcare experience possible for the city’s Latino community.
Dr. Arnold estimates that Clínica Médicos provides care for roughly 40,000 patients—greater than 90% of whom are Latino, greater than 50% are uninsured, 40% are on Medicaid, and 10% have commercial insurance through their employers. Even more impressive are the wide range of services the clinic provides for these patients, making it a one-stop clinic that can support a wide range of patient needs. This type of accessibility has been imperative to the clinic’s success. Dr. Arnold told me, “80% of our patients needs can be taken care of in one place, and we have a very low referral rate. Why? The accessibility of our model, the amplitude of our training, and the tech and services we provide at point of care.”
Moreover, this type of model is culturally sensitive, compassionate, and rooted in trust. Patients of the clinic “can navigate the system in an unconfusing, affordable way… they can leave with their prescriptions in hand, knowing exactly what it’s going to cost,” Dr. Arnold explains. A system this transparent is a rarity today but is one rooted in the clinic’s framework: C.E.L.L. This acronym, which stands for Cultural competency, Economic transparency, Logistic ease, and Language, establishes the foundation of Clínica Médicos—and it is easy to see them put this framework into action. For example, in addition to the comprehensive care center approach and price transparency, all staff, materials, and messages are bilingual, and the clinic is open seven days a week.
The comprehensive, holistic care provided at Clínica Médicos is captured in the story of one 14-year-old patient who recently came into the clinic. She had a puncture wound to her foot, which could have simply been treated with “Neosporin and a band-aid,” but Dr. Arnold’s team looked beyond the injury to understand and address the social determinants. “Why does she have a puncture wound? Because the apartment is almost uninhabitable, and that’s at the hands of a landlord that is allowing exposed nails in the ground,” Arnold explains. “So we involve our behavioral health navigators who advocate for her and call the landlord, and have that situation arranged.” In addition, they make sure she’s up to date on her tetanus shot, and discover she also suffers from crippling anxiety and connect her with their clinical psychologist to start her on the road to wellness.
It is hard not to look at this novel approach and see in it a type of model for small, local clinics across the nation. If done properly, the potential payoffs are massive, especially during a pandemic when the clinic was able to adjust its response to best serve the specific needs of its patients. Namely, Clínica Médicos has been able to leverage their trusted reputation to combat targeted misinformation about Covid and its vaccine, allowing the staff to further protect and care for their community. In doing so, they have made extensive progress in combatting vaccine hesitancy, which has been reported as being higher in minority populations.
Throughout our discussion, it was easy to see how the daily practice of medicine intersects with public policy. When I asked about the importance of informed, compassionate policy to clinics like Clínica Médicos, Dr. Arnold responded: “Good policy is good for the human, it’s good financially for our country, and it’s socially responsible.”
The care team, coupled with deep integration with social service navigation, at Clínica Médicos is there every single day for patients, regardless of race or background, providing high quality care and working tirelessly to make medical care accessible and affordable for those they serve. In discussing her inspiration, Dr. Arnold added, “the disparities that exist inside of healthcare that we so commonly talk about, weigh heavily inside of the Latino community. And, whether that is access to care, whether those are social determinants of health that are heading in a negative direction, whether that is an economic landscape inside of healthcare that is indefensible, we are there seven days a week for this community.”
Comprehensive, accessible, affordable, and compassionate, Clínica Médicos is paving the way for innovative healthcare models equipped to serve the unique and ever-changing needs of some of our most vulnerable populations. For those looking to learn from Dr. Arnold’s approach, she has an open-door policy and enthusiastically encouraged interested providers to “come see us” and learn how to replicate the Clínica Médicos model beyond Chattanooga.