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Mercer students introduce program for medical care after hours

BearCare medical assistant provides service to patient using the Hygeia Health medical station.
BearCare medical assistant provides service to patient using the Hygeia Health medical station.

Two Mercer sophomores have launched a program that will provide students with medical consults after the hours of the Student Health Center.

Derek Cotton and Marcus Strickland are conducting a 30-day trial for BearCare, a program that will extend the hours that students are able to receive medical care on campus.

Cotton, a biology major, and Strickland, a global health major, started building this program as freshmen. They said their inspiration to create the program began after attending the Telehealth Conference in Orlando, Florida where they represented the school.

With the assistance of Jean Sumner, the dean of the School of Medicine, they began a research project that would test the usefulness of telemedical devices, which allow patients to connect to a doctor or nurse practitioner electronically.

During their researching stages, both Cotton and Strickland noticed an issue with the availability and flexibility of appointments for the Student Health Center. Through impromptu surveys and data collected by the Student Health Center, Cotton said he noticed a trend.

“The main reason why people didn’t go to the Student Health Center is that they either didn’t know about it or they were in class while they were open,” Cotton said.

With the knowledge of this issue and their increasing understanding of telemedicine, the two students were introduced to Ricardo Ibarrio through Dr. Sumner. Ibarrio is an Information Technology professional who founded the telemedicine company Hygeia Health.

Ibarrio describes the services offered by Hygeia Health as, “A comprehensive primary care replacement and extending station that allows for telemedicine consults with remote diagnostics performed by a medical assistant.”

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Hygeia Health offers a medical station that allows a medical assistant to gather basic clinical information such as height, weight and blood pressure. It also connects to electronic medical records. The service provided by BearCare begins when vitals are taken by a medical assistant using the Hygeia Health medical station and a note taker records them. A nurse practitioner is then contacted electronically and the consultation begins.

Telemedical instruments, like the ones offered by Hygeia Health, allow for a better connection between the patient and the nurse practitioner, who is not actually in the office. For example, the telemedicine devices can allow the nurse practitioner to see inside the patient’s mouth.

Cotton and Strickland said that the use of the telemedical devices and the ability to connect to a nurse practitioner through the medical assistant is more cost efficient and will be able to provide Mercer students with better access to care.

BearCare opens when the Student Health Center closes at 4 p.m., and they provide care until 8 p.m. To receive care from BearCare, students must set up an appointment online and visit them at the medical school.

BearCare is still in its beginning stage, but Cotton and Strickland said that the short-term goal is to have a successful trial run.

“A success would be this being able to go past our 30-day mark. To see this be able to stay here at Mercer way past us graduating,” Strickland said.

Cotton and Strickland said they would like to see BearCare become a permanent program at Mercer and possibly implementing similar programs in the local Macon community.

“The long-term hope is if we get good data and we find that it is more cost effective and it’s relevant to do telemedicine on Mercer’s campus after hours, we hope that we can make it a permanent solution,” Cotton said.

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