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Local Free Clinic Goes Electronic To Help Meet Rising Demand

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By Jonathan Wilson

The debate over national health care may be stalled, even after the President's health care summit. But locally, the demand for services at the area's free health care clinics continues to rise.

One clinic in Arlington is changing to better meet those needs.

Usually patients far outnumber volunteers and staff at the Arlington Free Clinic. The clinic has seen a 200 percent jump in people trying to get appointments here over the past year.

But right now the lobby is only half full with patients, and the back offices are full with staff.

That's because the clinic is in the process of switching to electronic medical records, and staffers and volunteers, like optometrist Chris Renner, need time to learn the new system.

"Its all in one place?" Renner asks one of the trainers. "They won't have to click in one spot and go look and click in another spot and go look?"

Sheila Ryan, the director of clinical services here, says the transition may mean seeing fewer patients each night at first, but providing much better care once the clinic gets back up to speed.

"We'll be able to get a better sense of our population as a whole, and their health care, and hopefully improve, because we'll be able to collect data and see if things are actually working," she says.

Over the past year, the Arlington Free Clinic provided a total of $3.8 million worth of medical services and saw more than 1,600 patients.

Nancy Pallesen, the clinic's executive director, serves on WAMU's Community Council.

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