“If the patients cannot come to the clinic, our clinic must go to the patients.” — Dr. Ben
What sets Floating Doctors apart from traditional medical missions is our commitment to providing ongoing care to the communities we serve. we have a regular recurring presence in more than 25 remote communities in Panama and maintain detailed records of our patients’ health and treatment. With proper planning, a single brigade clinic to a remote region can have a very high impact even if they never return…but it is nothing compared to what you can accomplish if you have a permanent presence in a region. Our teams deploy nearly every week throughout the year and treat anywhere from 30 to 200 patients per day, revisiting the communities at least every three months so our chronic patients can receive appropriate care and ensure that new issues arising while we are away don’t progress too far.
We conduct single-day clinical deployments to communities a bit closer to base, and multi-day clinics as long as five days to more distant locations, living in the village during the deployment and returning to base after several days. We maintain a well-stocked pharmacy and portable diagnostic supplies like ultrasound, ECG, urinalysis and some basic labs but classical clinical diagnostics—what we call the ‘novel’ approach of talking and listening to patients, and putting your hands on patients to examine them—has proved an effective and popular way to deliver health care in remote settings. It is an opportunity for clinicians coming from well-resourced environments to remember that advanced imaging and labs are wonderful to have, but their absence should not a barrier to providing quality care to patients in remote settings. Clinical skills still have pride of place in our practice environment.
Our teams travel to remote communities with poor access to care to provide primary care and emergency care services, dental care, advanced patient care coordination and advocacy, education and training, and community development. Since setting sail in 2010, Floating Doctors has traveled over 6,000 miles in Southern Wind, over 20,000 miles in small open boats or dugout canoes, and hundreds of miles in minivans or on foot with packhorses to bring care to more than 60,000 patients and counting! We bring medical care where none exists, providing a variety of health services to our patients and leveraging our treatment of acute issues to develop the trust and knowledge to tackle the systemic causes of illness in our population.
We place a heavy emphasis on preventive care, so maternal and child health are major priorities for us. Many of our patients now attend our clinics not only when they are ill, but even when they are well to get a health check up for them and their children and to get de-worming tablets, vitamins, soap or new toothbrushes to help protect themselves and their families.
We also return to each target community a few days after our clinical deployment to conduct follow-up visits, allowing us to be much more conservative with our care without putting patients at risk and to follow up wounds, infections, and other conditions for which we have initiated treatment and need to review the patient soon afterwards. In 2017 we instituted a separate ‘Chronic Patient Follow-Up’ program to deploy small teams to the communities to do invest extra time and attention to the complicated management of our diabetic, hypertensive, epileptic, and other patients with chronic health issues.
The mobile clinic is the core of our program and what our project was designed to do: to bring health care where others have said it was impossible. If you would like to join our teams and help make the impossible happen every day, visit our Volunteer Page for more info about coming to work with us in the field.