Published November 21, 2016

Decades ago, doctors routinely visited patients at home, snapping open their bags to examine people in the comfort and privacy of their own homes. While the house call is unlikely to become commonplace again, there’s a fresh momentum behind new ways to bring care directly to people — often coupling 21st century technology with good old-fashioned community outreach.

For those who lack transportation, the direct-to-you approach can mean the difference between getting needed care or going without.

So how can we help more people obtain the care they need in the places they’re most comfortable?

Go mobile.

Mobile doctors’ offices are bringing care to people who need it most — they are, in effect, house calls on wheels. The vans are outfitted with medical equipment and private exam rooms and travel to neighborhoods in which a large percentage of people struggle to obtain routine medical care.

More than 1,500 mobile clinics brought care directly to patients in communities around the country last year. Most of the vans offer primary care, but some are specialized to treat certain conditions or populations. For example, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of West Virginia recently launched a doctor’s office on wheels for its members enrolled in Medicare Advantage, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act marketplaces.

Staffed with physicians and nurses from local communities, CEO Fred Early hopes that, “Health Care on the Go can be a solution for our West Virginia members who have trouble making and keeping a doctor’s appointment. Ideally, the initial mobile clinic visit will be the start of an on-going relationship.”

The “Man Van,” a partnership between Florida Blue, Florida’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield company, and the Broward Health Foundation, provides health screenings, such as blood pressure and body mass index readings, targeted at men who, studies show, are less likely to receive preventive screenings than women.

Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon and Regence BlueShield of Washington have partnered with Medical Teams International to roll out mobile dental clinics. In 2016, six mobile units traveled throughout 26 counties in Oregon to provide restorative and urgent dental care to nearly 25,000 adults and children.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana launched a Care Van that brings vaccines to rural populations. In 2015, the health plan provided more than 4,000 immunizations at no cost, or low cost, to patients.

Mobile vans play a key role in prevention, according to the American Journal of Managed Care, and have succeeded in reducing avoidable emergency room visits and hospital stays. Not only does this reduce stress for patients and their families, it also saves money. The same study found that ten comprehensive mobile clinics saved an estimated $6.8 million in one year.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association is an association of 36 independent, locally operated Blue Cross and/or Blue Shield companies.