LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - If you're in the market for a new primary care doctor, you know how hard it can be to find one; especially if you live in rural parts of Arkansas.
We're putting the problem and some solutions into perspective for you. There's an on-going effort to send more physicians into rural areas, to help provide great health care all across the state.
Dr. Stacy Zimmerman moved to Clinton as part of a community match program while in medical school at The University of Arkansas Medical School. For every year she served a rural community she got one year knocked off her student loans. Her contract expired four years ago, but Dr. Zimmerman has no plans to go elsewhere.
Stacy Zimmerman is a busy doctor who opened up Ozark Internal Medicine and Pediatrics clinic in Clinton about nine years ago. She says they focus more on patients and patient relationships. Under the UAMS loan forgiveness program, Zimmerman got out from under about 90 percent of her loans five years ago.
Zimmerman says "I've had a number of opportunities to venture into other medicine, but I would never consider them, this is just far too rewarding." She loves this community, and her parents are glad too.
Her patient, Sue Flemr, says "her location here in Clinton has been for not only me, but for my mother and as a pastor for members of my church is just invaluable."
This isn't your typical medical clinic. Its website has a patient portal and phone number with 24 hour access. Dr. Zimmerman has direct contact with her patients, answering their questions, referring them to specialists, prescribing refills and even taking appoints, all online.
Patients can also email the provider at anytime with questions, and this is very important in a rural area for our patients to have access for these services. The access helps patients save on trips to the doctor. Zimmerman says they travel about 30 minutes on average for each appointment. And it's those commuters who make her job worthwhile.
Zimmerman says she identifies the patient, care gaps and coordinates their care and to come back and see that positive outcome and see how much happier they are and healthier and there is just no greater reward in rural health care.
Dr. Zimmerman's progressive clinic is part of a pilot project she is working on with Blue Cross Blue shield. She says it's the future of clinics all over the state.
In addition, we sat down with Tim Hill, director of UAMS' Rural Hospital program. He works with students to find them incentives to practice in rural areas after medical school.
The program did a rural health assessment for 2011 outlying the need for quality health care professionals in rural Arkansas, and also how well the physicians are keeping Arkansans healthy.