Why are Managed Care Leaders Interested in Street Medicine?

Monday’s Wall Street Journal published a piece on “street medicine”, featuring Dr. Jim Withers, a 2015 CNN Top 10 Hero and Founder of Operation Safety Net and the International Street Medicine Institute. Dr. Withers is confirmed to deliver the opening keynote address at the Inaugural Payer and Provider Summit on Social Determinants of Health for Complex Populations, September 11-12, Arlington, VA.

In 1992, Dr. Withers, an internal medicine physician, began providing medical care to Pittsburgh’s unsheltered homeless population. He partnered with street-savvy formerly homeless individuals and, initially dressing as a homeless person, began to make nighttime rounds in the alleys and under the bridges of the city. From this initial outreach service other clinical volunteers joined in and Operation Safety Net was born. Today, Operation Safety Net is recognized as one of the nation’s first targeted, full-time street medicine programs. It continues to set the standard for this unique form of health care.

Street medicine has become a global movement. Since 1993, a network of over 100 communities practicing street medicine has emerged globally. These practitioners are largely “homeless” themselves in the medical community. Not only is the practice unrecognized, but also the values they hold that prioritize the value of the most vulnerable are also not embraced by mainstream health care.

This is an interesting and intriguing development, but what makes it really an attention magnet is the published list of the first 100 seminar ticket buyers. PDA checked on who had committed to attend. Interestingly, Managed Care representation is in the first row and is in full attendance. That is quite thought provoking.

It is particularly interesting to PDA as the universal healthcare movement is all around the independent practitioner. From discussion of the single payer hybrids to concierge services,  PDA continues to attempt to understand the currents of change and the howling winds of health care disparities. The daunting issues of medical cost, access issues, and ever-present chronic disease are everywhere.

(Thanks to Pittsburgh Mercy Health System)


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