The Mitchell Wolfson Sr. Department of Community Service (Wolfson DOCS) was recently selected as one of only three finalists, out of 9,000 submissions, for the coveted Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce 19th Annual Nonprofit Awards, or NOVO Awards. A student-run health care program at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, Wolfson DOCS provides vital health care screenings for thousands of medically underserved South Florida residents each year.
The Chamber’s NOVO Awards are presented to nonprofits for innovative excellence in community service. Wolfson DOCS was recognized as a finalist in the category of nonprofit businesses with budgets below $2 million.
“Getting to the final stage of the NOVO award selection process is a privilege,” said Amar R. Deshpande, M.D. ’02, faculty advisor for Wolfson DOCS, assistant dean for medical education and professor of medicine at the Miller School. “Our medical students have truly outdone themselves with the level of innovation they have introduced to expand Wolfson DOCS’ continued service to underserved communities.”
Prior to the safety restrictions required to stop the spread of COVID-19, Wolfson DOCS held 10 annual health fairs throughout Miami-Dade, Monroe and Broward counties, with an additional four clinics operating for medically underserved populations. Miller School medical students pioneered new and innovative ways to deliver care to patients during these community service efforts, including the implementation of a custom-made, electronic medical record system that uses an online patient privacy-compliant research and data-capture system.
“Switching to a customized electronic system allowed us to better serve our patients by providing an efficient, user-friendly database for tracking patient results from year-to-year,” said Sophia Pines, M.D. candidate, Class of 2021, and co-executive director of Wolfson DOCS. “We can instantaneously triage patients on their screening test results and connect them with community physicians for follow up.”
During health fairs, patients are screened for the most prevalent diseases in the community, including hypertension, diabetes, vision loss, obesity and depression, as well as colon, breast, cervical and skin cancers. The technology also gave Wolfson DOCS students and physicians access to a wealth of real-time data, which allowed them to immediately assess the risk level of patients and effectively manage their care.
“I’m really excited that Wolfson DOCS was recognized for innovative excellence by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce,” said Alexa Turpin, M.D. candidate, Class of 2021, and co-executive director of Wolfson DOCS. “This new system we’ve implemented is a real game changer. It helps us reduce and, in many cases, eliminate the chance that any high-risk patient slips through the system.”
The Chamber’s Nonprofit Business Committee NOVO Awards Task Force also included an assessment to gauge the programs’ efforts once COVID-19 made it impossible to see patients in person and at health fairs and clinics. Wolfson DOCS successfully integrated telemedicine to engage and treat patients while keeping the community and health care workers safe.
Telemedicine reaches vulnerable populations
Telemedicine ensures longitudinal care, especially for the vulnerable patient populations that routinely seek care at the IDEA (Infectious Disease and Elimination Act) Exchange Clinic, which is the only syringe exchange in the state. Through harm reduction and prevention measures, Wolfson DOCS students at the Clinic deliver patient-centered care to these patients in order to mitigate poor health outcomes associated with injection drug use.
Early in the pandemic, the Wolfson DOCS Emergency Preparedness Team partnered with Florida’s Poison Control Center in Miami to staff the Florida Department of Health’s COVID-19 Hotline. Each day, medical students fielded COVID-related calls from residents, giving them the unique opportunity to leverage their medical knowledge, and understanding of community resources, while supporting callers.
Wolfson DOCS also worked on the Surveillance Program Assessing Risk and Knowledge of Coronavirus (SPARK-C), a project spearheaded by the Miller School in partnership with local government officials. Wolfson DOCS students volunteered to enroll randomly selected participants in the SPARK-C initiative for antibody testing in an effort to understand the prevalence of COVID-19 in Miami-Dade County.
“I’m grateful that the NOVO Awards task force recognized the creative and effective ways Wolfson DOCS students pivoted to meet the needs of underserved communities during the pandemic,” noted Dr. Deshpande. “While plans are under way to phase in direct care with all safety protocols in place, we will continue to assess the impact of COVID-19 and work to make a difference in our community.”
For more information on Wolfson DOCS, visit umdocs.mededu.miami.edu.