Stanford Medicine Newsletter Updates For the Local Community


New wheels for teen medical clinic

Van delivers mobile health services

Seth Ammerman, MD, oversees the Teen Health Van, a mobile medical program for underserved youth.


After her family lost its health insurance last summer, high school senior Beneralda Garcia-Flores began receiving her medical care through the Teen Health Van, a mobile health unit that parks regularly outside her school at the East Palo Alto Academy.

Garcia-Flores, who juggles school, homework and two part-time jobs to support her family, regularly visits with the medical staff to get her prescription medicines and address other health-care needs.

“Having this resource at school, where I spend much of my time, is very convenient,” she said. “It has been a big help to me and to other kids who come from low-income families and don’t have health insurance.”

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Teen Health Van, a program for underserved youth sponsored by Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and Stanford Children’s Health. Thanks to generous donors, the clinic recently acquired a new vehicle with the latest technologies to help improve care for its vulnerable patients.

“Having this new, highly reliable and state-of-the-art vehicle — along with all the latest technologies — is allowing us to better serve our patients,” said Seth Ammerman, MD, medical director of the program, officially known as Mobile Adolescent Health Services.

Ammerman and his health-care team, which includes a nurse practitioner, a registered dietitian and a social worker, travel to seven schools and community centers from San Francisco to San Jose, providing free and comprehensive primary health care to young people age 10 to 25.

Access to health care

For many patients, the Teen Health Van is their only access to health care. The mobile clinic treats youth with a range of needs, including basic medical care, reproductive issues, skin problems, anxiety and depression, sexually transmitted infections and nutrition problems. The team also offers substance abuse counseling and treatment.

Children’s Health Fund, Samsung, Caroline and Fabian Pease, and the Westly Foundation contributed to purchase the new van and equip it with the latest interactive technologies. Using a tablet, the medical team can retrieve information to explain a condition and display results on a 32-inch monitor on the exam room wall. Patients and staff also can use video to translate images and sounds from stethoscopes and other medical instruments.

“The kids love these technologies because they’re interactive,” said Ammerman, who is also a clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine. “I can make notes on the tablet and save and print the information for the patient to take home. This technology is very personal and patient-specific.”

The van’s new technology also allows Ammerman to consult with medical specialists via live video chat. Before this service was available, it was difficult for patients to get consultations with specialists because of transportation and insurance issues.

“This type of remote ‘telehealth’ is going to change the way medicine is practiced for the underserved population,” he said. “A big barrier for these kids traditionally not only is their ability to get primary health care, which we provide, but also specialty care. This is a way to overcome that barrier.”

Since the program’s launch in 1996, the team has served more than 4,500 patients during 15,000 visits. And the demand for its services continues to rise. Ammerman estimated that each dollar spent on prevention and intervention through the Teen Van saves $10 in future medical costs.

“These working-poor families make too much money to qualify for Medi-Cal,” Ammerman said. “Even with the Affordable Care Act and other programs, these families are still living paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford health insurance. Housing costs in the Bay Area are going up, making it harder to afford the necessities. And about 40 percent of our patients are currently or have been homeless in the past year.”

Amika Guillaume, principal of East Palo Alto Academy, said the van and the medical staff are an invaluable resource to the school community.

“To be ready to learn, kids need to be healthy and have their primary needs met,” Guillaume said. “The van has become a safety net for the students and their families who know they can always rely on the medical staff and the services they provide.”

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