This doctor still makes house calls
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Carrying a small black handbag with a stethoscope and thermometer stuffed inside, Cindy Pinson makes her daily rounds through the tri-state area, visiting patients in their homes.
It's really old-fashioned, Pinson said.
The house call era took a nosedive after its peak in the '60s, and only about 14 percent of physicians in the United States now visit homes. It's a dying form of medical care because it can be seen as time-consuming and less efficient.
But to Pinson, it's worth it. The population she serves — West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky — includes a majority of elderly people.
"It's difficult for them to get out," said Pinson, 45. "Some wouldn't even get out and see a doctor at all, so this is very convenient for them."
Pinson, a native of China who now lives in Huntington, founded Travel MD in 2005 after realizing she wanted to spend more time with her patients.
"I was in a very busy office practice," she said. "I wanted to do what I feel is right without answering to a hospital or CEO who may not agree. If you spend more time with each patient, you make less money, but I felt like that's what was right."
Travel MD was built on the idea of providing care to an elderly and homebound population and now has eight providers covering nine nursing homes, 20 assisted living facilities and five personal care homes and fields 400 house calls per month.
"We drive to their house and see them in their home, but a lot of people have since moved to assisted living, but we go and see them there, too," she said.
Pinson and three other doctors and four nurse practitioners travel Boone, Lincoln, Kanawha and Cabell counties and areas from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Clay County in Kentucky.
"There are no boundaries we're not willing to go," she said. "The need is really great. We do have to turn some people down if there's only one house call several hours away, but we're hiring more people to cover more area in West Virginia. This whole state is in need."
Because of that dedication, Pinson was recently named as the 2013 House Call Doctor of the Year by the American Academy of Home Care Physicians.
"Dr. Pinson left a lucrative position at a local hospital to start Travel MD," according to the release. "She sacrificed financially and did moonlighting jobs to support her family while the house call practice grew. She worked 80-hour weeks for many years, making herself available seven days a week, 24 hours a day for her patients."
Kendra Hannahs, vice president of Travel MD, wrote a nomination letter on Pinson's behalf, describing her generosity and service.
"Dr. Pinson was the first female physician to start a House Call Doctor medical practice in this rural area of West Virginia . . . and now we are the largest mobile medical practice in the tristate area," Hannahs wrote.
"Dr. Pinson goes above and beyond the call of duty, day or night, to take care of the needs of her patients, always with a smile and warm hug. She travels about 400 miles per week . . . she works until the job is complete."
Hannahs said she was surprised when Pinson was selected for the award because private practices aren't usually the recipients.
"It's usually someone from a university who has done a good bit of research," Hannahs said. "They don't look at people who are dedicated and go out into the field often."
Pinson's travels have put just under 4,000 active patients on her list. Most of her patients suffer from diagnoses like hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, dementia, diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity — the same issues that plague the rest of the local population.
But treating such illnesses in the patients' home yields benefits.
"We can look at them in their environment," she said. "I can look in their refrigerator to see what their diet is like; if they've tripped, I might be able to see what caused it.
"They can do their laundry and continue chores at home rather than wait around all day in an office when the actual time with the doctor is only about 15 minutes."
Pinson credits her time with the Marshall University family medicine program, where she completed her residency and made her first house calls.
The Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine recently received a "top ten" award from the American Academy of Family Physicians for being one of the nation's top schools in the percentage of graduates entering family medicine residencies — 18.5 percent of Marshall medical school graduates chose family medicine residencies.
"I had three people I had to see as a resident," she said. "That was my first exposure to house calls and seeing people in home in their environment. It was memorable. I was very surprised — I wasn't sure what to ask. But I learned a lot from those visits."
Those visits helped pave the way — that much-traveled highway — for her future in the medical field.
No office, no patient chair and no parking lot. No problem.
All Pinson needs to treat her patients is in her bag — thermometers, blood pressure monitors, gloves and other basic supplies.
"You don't need a lot of equipment for good care," she said. "You need to be able to relate, to care, to help them in any way possible."
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