Summer 2018

Long-Distance Health

Tufts-affiliated doctors are involved in a new model of medical-care delivery.

By Monica Jimenez

At the same time that physicians at resource-strapped clinics are struggling to care for their un- and underinsured patients, doctors with hours and skills to spare are looking to pay it forward. Connecting the dots is a national nonprofit called the Medical Alumni Volunteer Expert Network (MAVEN) Project. Founded by Pacific Women’s Obstetrics & Gynecology managing partner and practitioner Laurie Green in 2012, and now driven by CEO Lisa Levine, M05, The MAVEN Project links physician volunteers—including a number of Tufts School of Medicine alumni and Tufts Medical Center physicians—with offsite clinics in need through a telehealth portal.

Illustration: Chris Gash

Primary-care providers in under-resourced clinics can book time with physician volunteers for provider-to-provider video and/or audio consults, education, and mentoring through The MAVEN Project’s telehealth portal. The system eliminates geographic and socioeconomic obstacles, and now enables over forty clinics in Massachusetts, New York, Florida, California, Washington, and South Dakota to get immediate diagnoses, advice on which patients truly need to be seen by a specialist in-person, and specialist consults. Currently about 95 active volunteers—many from medical schools—mentor newer colleagues, get consults from doctors in thirty fields, and trade thirty-minute seminars on topics ranging from opioid management to rheumatoid arthritis.

Some volunteers are looking for a way to stay active as they enter retirement. “This provides them an opportunity to continue to do what they love and are trained to do—and to flex those muscles they have developed in their respective specialties for often decades of their life,” said Levine, who was The MAVEN Project’s CMO before becoming chief executive last year. Her previous work centered on building innovative health-care delivery models to serve vulnerable groups.

John Mazzullo, an assistant clinical professor at the School of Medicine and a retired physician, is one such volunteer. “I had forty years of experience in primary care that I did not want to lay dormant,” said Mazzullo, who is mentoring a nurse practitioner at a community health center in western Massachusetts, discussing cases, patient management, and clinic politics. “This knowledge base could be useful to young people just starting out in primary care,” he said. “Especially in settings where they are more isolated from other clinicians.”

As ophthalmologist Tom Hedges, M75, moves toward a part-time schedule, he will start studying photos of patients’ eyes for signs of diabetic retinopathy for a Cape Cod clinic. “I’m a clinician first, and I like caring for people above and beyond my academic activities. Most of us at Tufts still feel that way,” Hedges said. “As we retire and want to keep our hands in, what better way to do it than at clinics that are in need?” The MAVEN Project requires physicians to stay licensed and provides coverage for malpractice for activities related to the nonprofit.

A past president of the Tufts Medicine Alumni Association, Hedges is also recruiting fellow alumni to participate, in the hope that the program can take on additional clinics. In the meantime, The MAVEN Project is building several new features, such as an on-demand provider-to-provider consult that would allow a physician to step out of an exam room midappointment to consult with a volunteer then return with new info to aid in the treatment plan, plus a secure messaging platform that will enable clinic providers to send questions to the volunteers.

“The goal is to increase the knowledge and capacity of clinics caring for the uninsured and underinsured,” said Levine. “The social determinants of health are suddenly being discussed more than ever before. Our whole model is based on leveraging technology to close that gap in access to care.”

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