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Improving efficiency, cost and effectiveness of rural health care

11/14/2013 at 3:40 p.m.

Arkansas Farm Bureau rural health programs coordinator

A name change for several medical facilities around the state is bringing a familiar face to rural communities. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Regional Programs has been offering medical care in rural communities for many years through its Area Health Education Centers (AHEC). Many familiar with UAMS may not realize the connection between the two. As a result, during the last several months, AHECs have undergone a name change. The eight centers scattered around the state are now known as UAMS Regional Centers.

According to Dr. Mark Mengel, vice chancellor for regional programs at UAMS, the new title provides citizens in rural communities a better idea of UAMS’s reach. “UAMS is seen by many as a big medical center in Little Rock. We want everyone to be aware of the network of care we have that extends to every part of the state,” he said.

All UAMS Regional Centers emphasize primary care and educating resident and medical students. Along with these services, each one is becoming individualized to its patients’ needs by focusing on areas that are critical to the communities they serve. Some centers are expanding telemedicine in their facility, while others see the need to bring in more specialists. For example, UAMS SW in Texarkana is working with Arkansas Children’s Hospital to establish pediatric subspecialty clinics.

Incorporating a team-based approach to medical care is a new priority for the centers. “As the largest provider for Medicaid patients in the counties where our regional centers are located, we needed to find a method that would yield better outcomes for our patients with lower costs. A team-based approach that focuses on management and prevention of chronic illnesses is the first step in accomplishing that, “said Mengel.

This approach offers patients several medical professionals working together on their case, along with a care coordinator helping coordinate care and monitor the patient’s disease. Chronic illnesses management, such as diabetes and heart disease, is important, because it prevents unnecessary visits to the emergency room and decreases hospital stays for the patient.

Introducing a new model of care means not only changes in the treatment of patients but also changes in the physical facility.

“As we moved to team-based care, we realized many of our facilities were inadequate for this new model. The physical arrangement of a clinic is very important to this particular model of care,” Mengel said.

Clinics will now be a pod-shaped design, allowing team members to be based in the middle with exam rooms around them, versus the old system where exam rooms were located down a long hall. This gives medical professionals easy access to other team members during a consultation. 

As with any major change, Mengel realizes there will be challenges. “The outcomes we have measured so far have been less than desirable. We have a long way to go to improve health care in Arkansas. But with a new model of care and new facility design, we’re heading in the right direction.”

For more information about UAMS Regional Centers, please visit

Editor's Note: This story was originally published in the Nov.-Dec. issue of Front Porch magazine.

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