Nursing works with other health disciplines to improve SC's health

The Carolina Family Practice, operated by nursing faculty, has a new home to better serve its patients. In November, the clinic opened at 1410 Blanding St. in downtown Columbia as part of its new affiliation with Palmetto Health USC Medical Group. 

The nurse practitioners treat acute problems such as a sinus infection, but also a wide-range of chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, thyroid disease and mental problems. They also conduct well-child care and physicals. 

For many of the patients, 60 percent of whom are on Medicaid, the clinic is a lifesaver.

“If we weren’t here, many people would have a problem finding a medical home,” says Toriah Caldwell, the clinic director. “The continuity of care is very important.”

“We really listen to our patients because we want to include them in the treatment plan,” Caldwell says. “We want them to come up with a plan for any lifestyle changes that need to be made and not just hand them a prescription and say, ‘take this medicine.’ ”

Caldwell says the clinic focuses on being accessible to its patients by offering same-day appointments and allowing for walk-ins, similar to what you would find in a hospital emergency room.

The South Carolina Hospital Association estimates the typical emergency room visit costs approximately $1,100. At that rate, Stephanie Burgess, associate dean for health practice and policy, estimates the clinic saved Richland County and South Carolina taxpayers $2.8 million in 2015. 

The cost-savings is greater when taking into consideration the influence the College of Nursing has had on health care throughout the state. When the college’s clinic opened in the 1990s, it was the first nurse practitioner practice in South Carolina. Burgess estimates there are now more than 20 nurse-run clinics statewide.

“Most of the clinics, if not all of them, are serving rural or underserved population,” Burgess says. “And many of those nurse practitioners are Carolina graduates.”  

The Carolina Family Practice also allows students to receive much needed training. Students in the graduate nurse practitioner program usually get 700 hours of direct patient care. 

“They have role models right here because all of us are affiliated with the university,” Caldwell says.

And it’s not just nursing students who are benefiting from the clinic. Social work and pharmacy students also perform clinical hours. A social work student may have a better understanding of what’s happening at home that prevents a patient from changing their lifestyle. Pharmacy students can advise if a patient is taking a medicine incorrectly.

“Each discipline brings its own expertise and importance to the health care paradigm,” Caldwell says. “It’s good for the students to learn at this level — how everyone can work together and provide the best outcomes for the patient.”

While 90 percent of the patients are on Medicaid and Medicare, the practice does have clientele with private insurance including many university faculty and staff. Caldwell expects an increase in university-related patients now that the new location is closer to campus.

The clinic is open from 7:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and 7:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Friday. 

Open house

The Carolina Family Practice will host an open house 4-7 p.m., Tuesday (Jan. 16).

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