Vision for health through education

Published 9:59 pm Thursday, March 14, 2013

By Diana Conco

At Western Tidewater Free Clinic, we believe in the old saying, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; if you teach him to fish, you feed him for life.” For our patients, we want to provide health care that translates into a healthy lifestyle.

It is true that the clinic staff and volunteers treat the health problems of our patients, but that is not all we do. We also empower patients to care for their own health by including patient education as a part of each visit. It is this information that helps the patient to make healthy choices in diet, exercise, safe use of prescribed medication, and preventive screening tests.

Email newsletter signup

Our patients have often been unable to get health care for months or years. They have not had access to yearly screenings, such as mammograms. Many have developed multiple conditions that have aggravated each other. They are also on multiple drug regimens, and some drugs may interact with others or require special precautions.

Proper use of prescribed drugs requires education. The pharmacist or discharge nurse at WTFC assumes this educator role. They instruct the patient on what the medication does, how and when to take it, side effects to be aware of and other instructions, such as having drug blood levels monitored.

Recently, a patient came to the clinic with uncontrolled hypertension. Her blood pressure was 191/90, much higher than the normal desired blood pressure below 120/80. At the initial visit, she received comprehensive education on risk factors, diet and disease management and a prescription for one anti-hypertensive medication.

She returned for a one-month follow-up visit, and her blood pressure was 116/74. She had adopted a healthy lifestyle based on the education she received at the clinic. She had cut out the fried foods, processed meats and many other sodium-rich foods. The nurse had taught her how to read food labels to look for hidden sugars, sodium and high fat content.

She is very excited that she has been empowered through education to have control over her disease process.

Along with a healthy diet, exercise is another habit we should all incorporate into our weekly routines. Exercise has many benefits for good circulation, weight loss, building muscle mass, strengthening bones and improving mood. Typically, the best exercise is walking. It is free and requires only comfortable shoes and a good, safe surface.

Patients who come to the clinic do not come as healthy individuals. They may have osteoarthritis of hip or knee, foot problems, balance problems, or the need to use a walker or cane. The educator will work with patients to see what they can do to increase movement and activity within their current physical ability.

WTFC operates on the Health Home model in which we diagnose patients’ medical conditions and coordinate care for diagnostic tests, laboratory tests, referral to specialists and health screenings. Our coordination of care requires a great deal of follow up, thus guiding patients to healthy habits.

We believe a healthy individual will be an important step in fulfilling WTFC’s vision of “a healthy community where all people will be inspired and enabled to make healthy lifestyle choices.”

Diana Conco, Ph.D., R.N. is a board member of the Western Tidewater Free Clinic and resides in Franklin. For more information and details on other services available at the Western Tidewater Free Clinic, call or email Pamela Witt, RN/BSN, Director of Clinical Services, at 923-1060, ext. 7017 or