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Airport's new health clinic designed for quick service

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

A six-year-old boy with a cut finger. An elderly woman with a hurt knee. An ambassador bound for Cairo suffering from an upset stomach. A Transportation Security Administration officer with a question about his blood pressure.

All of them passed through the doors of The Aero Clinic within the first few days of its opening in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport's atrium.

They were in an out in about 15 minutes and saw, first hand, what is being called a milestone for airport service and an advancement for health care clinics.

"This is a new model," said Gary Jones, the company's chief operating officer. "This clinic is for the millions of people who call the nation's airports home and for the thousands of employees who call the airport home during the work week ... a brand of health care which is designed to provide quick and immediate access."

The clinic, which opened on May 6 and had its grand opening on June 4, replaces the R. L. Brown Jr. Grady Medical Center on the second floor of the atrium. The Grady clinic was one of only a few health care facilities in the country located inside an airport and focused mainly on serving the more than 55,000 airport employees. In most airports in this country, the only available medical attention is first aid.

The Aero Clinic is said to be groundbreaking because of the way it is geared toward quickly serving the employees and the more than 84 million passengers annually passing through the hectic and busy international intersection.

"There's a sense of urgency [in an airport]," said Rosemary Kelly, clinic spokeswoman. "You want to get through security and out to the concourse in time for your flight. We're very in tune to time pressure. Our entire model is designed with that premise in mind."

The clinic hopes to use technology and the experience of operating other businesses in airports to speed up visits. The clinic's executive chairman, Felker W. Ward Jr., has previous experience in airport customer service as a founder of Concessions International. While developing the health care model, The Aero Clinic also looked to Piedmont Hospital's paperless patient system, Kelly said.

When entering the clinic, patients will notice a touch-screen computer kiosk designed to speed up the visit. When leaving, patients will notice the prepackaged, commonly-prescribed drugs.

"What is it that takes so long?" asked Paul Adams, a clinic spokesman. "It's the paperwork. Paperwork is one of the problems in health care, actually, because it causes a lot of inefficiency... Where you would typically fill out a clip board full of stuff, [this touch-screen computer] system really streamlines that whole, time-consuming, paper-intensive process."

The system will quickly check-in patients with a touch screen asking common questions about symptoms and medical histories. The computer will store the records of the visit and results will be available through a secure, online system and the files can be made available, upon request, to the patient's hometown physicians.

The paperless-clinic model also frees up the clinicians, Kelly said, "so the clinicians can be clinicians instead of paper pushers."

Test results will be available on an "online patient portal," later the same day and prescriptions commonly needed for air-travel complaints will be immediately available.

"If you go in there and have strep throat, or your throat's just bothering you or whatever, they could take a throat culture and be able to tell. And they'd be able to give you the Z-pack - prepackaged antibiotics," Adams said.

The clinic will specialize in moving patients through fast and will also focus on travel-related illnesses, including stomach aches, sore throats, climate-change sinus colds and skin irritations.

"The airport population of America is very, very highly stressed and what they need is this kind of clinic," former Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young said at the grand opening. "This is personal, for me. I seem to spend, as my wife will tell you, more time in airports than I do at home."

The Aero Clinic in Atlanta is the first of what the company hopes will be a series of clinics. In the near future, one is planned for the Philadelphia International Airport. In the next five years, the company plans to open a network of 20 clinics designed for the traveling public.

In the process, officials said at the grand opening ceremony, the model may influence the U.S. health care system.

"A few years ago, this would have been odd," Kelly said. "People are just being more vocal about wanting access to health care service and wanting more affordable health care. I think consumers are a little more open to alternative methods of receiving health care."