As a family physician at a Carolinas HealthCare System clinic that welcomes low-income patients, Dr. Michael Dulin often wondered why some people still chose to visit the more expensive emergency room for primary care.
Several years ago, with a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and assistance from UNC Charlotte, Dulin tried to get a better understanding. He and his colleagues, under the title Mecklenburg Area Partners for Primary Care Research, began interviewing people, especially immigrants, about why they’d choose the ER when they didn’t have an emergency.
The answer, not surprisingly, was that these patients find the U.S. health care system confusing and difficult to navigate. In Mexico, the custom is to get primary care at the ER, and a wait is expected in exchange for easy access in evenings and on weekends. In this country, it’s hard to know where to go or who to call.
“Overwhelmingly, people love the emergency department,” Dulin said. “You can go in at all times. There’s in-person translation and high quality of service.”
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He and his research colleagues agreed on what was needed: a single place to go for comprehensive information about community services.
Two years later, they have launched an online portal called MAP – for Mecklenburg Access Portal – at www.the-map.net. The aim was initially to help immigrants, but Dulin said the site could be useful to anyone.
For now, it’s English only, but by the end of next year, Dulin said it will be available in Spanish. Anyone can use it to find out about more than 80 health and social service organizations, including International House and the Latin American Coalition.
Research showed that immigrants needed help with housing, jobs and English-as-a-second-language classes as much as they needed health care, said Dulin. He works at Carolinas HealthCare’s Elizabeth Family Medicine clinic and is also medical director for Our Lady of Guadalupe free clinic.
The MAP provides up-to-date information in a user-friendly way, Dulin said. For example, someone can log on and ask for a clinic that offers same-day appointments, has a provider who speaks Spanish and doesn’t require insurance. The portal will provide a list that can be printed out for future reference.
Tamara Withers-Thompson, clinic manager at Charlotte Community Health Clinic, said she plans to set up a computer in the free clinic’s lobby. Patients can “scroll through all the community services that will be available to them,” she said. “Just about every game in town is on that list. It will be a great community service.”