Northern Michigan patients who live in rural areas are benefiting thanks to Munson Medical Center. Discover Munson’s mobile treatment services.

Featured in the 2015 issue of MyNorth Medical Insider.

In the drive to stop the spread of HIV, a primary goal is reducing the patient’s virus count to a non-detectable level. “Research shows that the chances of passing on the disease dramatically decreases if we can achieve that degree of viral suppression,” says Nick Erber, manager of the Thomas Judd Care Center, an HIV/AIDS clinic within Munson Medical Center.

To help reach that goal, the clinic recently launched a mobile care program in which a nurse with state-of-the-art mobile diagnostic tools will visit patients in rural areas and small towns across 25 Northern Michigan counties. Munson designed the program after receiving a grant from the state that is intended to spur innovative methods for reducing rates of HIV.

The program is needed because in rural areas, HIV patients can still have problems establishing a relationship with a primary care doctor. The issues might be related to insurance or transportation or even social stigma associated with the disease—will word spread in a small town? Adding to the need for regular nursing visits, viral suppression demands never-ending attention. “Once you achieve viral suppression, you have to stay on the meds, and if somebody starts missing doses or missing doctor appointments, that’s a problem,” Erber says.

In designing the program, Munson’s medical staff turned to telemedicine—tools that allow a patient to be diagnosed in real time by a medical expert far away. In Munson’s HIV program, a nurse will be able to transmit medical information about a patient in, say, Alpena, to a nurse practitioner stationed at a computer monitor 125 miles away in Traverse City.

Among the more advanced diagnostic tools is an EKG glove, which looks like an oven mitt, and when the patient wears the mitt and places it over his or her heart, it gives an EKG reading. Another tool is a high-magnification camera that enables the nurse practitioner to take close-up photos for the patient’s medical record.

At last official count, there were 810 people with HIV living in Northern Michigan, but not all of them would need the program or qualify for its income requirements. Patients must make less than about $40,000 a year. To enter the program, an initial face-to-face meeting is also required.

Erber hopes to have the program operating about November 1.

On a related note, Munson plans to offer rapid-read HIV tests, which give results in 15 minutes. The Centers for Disease Control now recommends that everybody from 13 to 65 be tested at least once.

Northern Michigan Medical & Health

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Photo(s) by Todd Zawistowski