Taking Flight: How Our Clinicians Provide Cardiology and Gastroenterology Care to Underserved Areas

Posted by Jodi McCaffrey on Feb 14, 2023 11:15:56 AM
5 minute read

Babies born with birth defects often need skilled care and surgical interventions to survive and thrive. But what happens if you live in an area without these lifesaving services?

According to the American Heart Association, 60 million people live in rural areas, yet only 9 percent of U.S. physicians practice there.

The pediatricians and specialists with Pediatrix® Medical Group are dedicated to delivering the highest level of health care and support when — and often where — your family needs it most. Among our network of nearly 2,800 physicians in more than 20 pediatric subspecialties, several physicians routinely travel to underserved areas without comprehensive care to assess and treat infants, children, adolescents and young adults with various conditions.

We sat down with Michael D. Pettersen, M.D., a board-certified pediatric cardiologist and pediatrician with Pediatrix® Cardiology of the Rocky Mountains, and Logan Gibson, M.D., a board-certified pediatric gastroenterologist and pediatrician with Pediatrix® Gastroenterology of the Rocky Mountains, to learn more about how they provide care in rural areas.

Q: What should patients know about your practice?

Dr. Pettersen: I work with pediatric heart surgeons to evaluate and treat fetal cardiac issues and congenital defects in infants, children, teens and adults. Our practice sees patients in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming — a large geographic territory.

Dr. Gibson: Ours is a general pediatric gastroenterology practice. This means we see individuals with medical issues involving the intestines, liver, pancreas or gallbladder from birth until their early 20s.

Q: How do you reach patients in underserved areas?

Dr. Pettersen: To support patients in western Nebraska, we operate a clinic in Scottsbluff. Because there are no pediatric cardiologists in Wyoming, we fly to Gillette and Casper two days a month to see patients. If we didn’t fly to these communities, parents would need to drive eight hours to see us at our main office in Denver.

Q: How do parents learn about these outreach clinics?

Dr. Pettersen: Families are often referred to us by their pediatricians. In other cases, parents have found us through their online research.

Q: What’s a typical travel day like for you?

Dr. Pettersen: I usually leave my house at 6 a.m. and drive to the airport. We board a small Beechcraft King Air charter plane that only seats five people. We fly to Wyoming, rent a car to get to the clinic and start seeing patients by 9:30 a.m. We finish seeing patients by 4 p.m. and reverse the travel process to get back home.

Dr. Gibson: A medical assistant and I fly out of Centennial Airport in Colorado at 7 a.m. The flight lasts about two hours. We will then see patients at the Campbell County Health Department from around 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. We typically work through lunch to maximize how many patients we can see and use our limited time there effectively.

Q: What kinds of issues do you see in Wyoming?

Dr. Pettersen: The conditions we see run the gamut, from kids with heart murmurs, chest pain or fainting, to those without any significant issues but abnormal tests. Sometimes we provide follow-up care to children after heart surgery. Other times, infants with potential heart issues are identified in the local neonatal intensive care unit. We can read their echoes remotely and provide input on their care. We also sometimes see adults with known congenital heart disease.

Dr. Gibson: At this time, we’re not seeing patients in the hospital, only outpatients. And we don’t perform procedures there. The conditions that we see in Wyoming aren’t much different from those we see in Denver. Unfortunately, patients in Wyoming previously had no access to pediatric gastroenterology care unless they drove many hours to Colorado.

Q: Are you licensed to practice in any other states?

Dr. Petterson: I’m licensed to see patients in Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Idaho, Utah, Kansas, South Carolina and Florida. Via our telemedicine program, I can see patients at 70 hospitals in eight states. I’m working on obtaining licensure in California and Texas.

Dr. Gibson: I am currently licensed in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska.

Q: What drew you to this profession?

Dr. Pettersen: I became interested in cardiology as an undergraduate while conducting research in a basic cardiology lab. When I completed a rotation in pediatric cardiology in medical school, I realized that I especially enjoyed working with the pediatric age group.

Dr. Gibson: I love caring for children; it’s the only area of medicine I was ever interested in.

Q: Is there anything else you think parents should know about your role or your practice?

Dr. Pettersen: We’re here to serve the community. Travel days can be long, and we’re quite busy, but it’s just so gratifying. Patients and their families are appreciative, and that makes it all worthwhile.

Dr. Gibson: Patients and their families are so appreciative of the services we provide. They have expressed so much gratitude for us coming up there, even if it’s for only one day a month. I believe part of my job is being an educator, so I want my patients and their parents to understand my thought processes and how we can work together to solve the problems they are experiencing. Ultimately, we’re all on the same team trying to achieve the same goal: to help them or their child get better.

Visit our website to find a Pediatrix physician near you.

Topics: Pediatric Cardiology, Gastroenterology

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