Rural communities have always had a difficult time attracting doctors with an interest in establishing local practices. That dynamic has changed in recent years though, thanks to a plan in which metropolitan area physicians make regular visits to smaller communities.
Gary Worcester, an Oklahoma City cardiologist, has been traveling to smaller Oklahoma communities for the past 15 years. His rotating schedule takes him to Madill, Watonga, Blackwell and Yukon. Over the course of a year, Worcester says he’ll see about 1,200 patients in those communities.
“I have a mature practice so to be able to continue to serve people I’ve seen in the last 20 years, it’s much easier for me to go to them,” Worcester said. “They don’t like the inconvenience of having their kids take off work to drive them to Oklahoma City. Now they can schedule yearly or six-month visits without leaving their own community.”
Worcester is one of approximately 15 cardiologists from the Integris Health group who makes regular visits to a dozen smaller communities. The majority of the patients he sees have been referred by primary care doctors in their respective communities. Similar programs have been established throughout the United States and their numbers continue to grow.
Oklahoma Cardiovascular Associates is another Oklahoma City-based practice that has become increasingly involved in sending specialty-care doctors around the state. Michael Schoeffler is one of three dozen physicians from OCA who makes weekly visits to see patients in small towns.
“Most of us have one day a week set aside when we travel,” Schoeffler said. “I go to Seminole, Holdenville, Cushing and Chandler, all of which are relatively easy to travel to. For trips to Woodward, Guymon or McAlester, we have a plane that’s available to us so that you’re not wasting an entire day in the car. It’s much more time effective.”
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