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Researching the Impacts of Climate Change on Primary Care Utilization: Spring ScholarSip

June 16, 2023

On June 12, 2023, thirty-seven members of the Drexel community tuned in virtually for the Drexel Libraries’ spring ScholarSip event featuring Dr. Nathalie May, Associate Professor, Drexel University College of Medicine, and members of her interdisciplinary research team. This was the final session for this year’s series that focused on Climate Change and Sustainability. The traditional toast raised to the end of the final academic term reminded us how quickly time flies since it seemed as we just held our first session on this critical topic that predicts change.

During the event, Dr. May and her team offered “food for thought” on their current research on the impacts of heatwaves and extremely cold conditions on primary care utilization patterns in socially and environmentally vulnerable neighborhoods in Philadelphia.

Members of the research team include Janelle Edwards, MPH, Doctoral Research Fellow, Dornsife School of Public Health; Janet Fitzpatrick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Drexel University College of Medicine; Janet Matthews, MSN, RN, Senior Director, Research Program Development, College of Medicine; and Adrienne Willard, MD, Associate Professor, Drexel University College of Medicine.

Their hypothesis: extreme weather events will be associated with higher rates of “no show” and cancelation rates at primary care practices, especially among elderly patients and patients living in socially and environmentally vulnerable neighborhoods.

“We have observed that patients don’t come to their visits when there’s extremes in weather, but we didn’t have any data to back that with. So, we said, ‘Hey, let’s try to prove it,’” Dr. Willard explained during the event on Tuesday. “And as we started thinking about this, we realized this isn’t something that’s been looked at in great detail and we wanted to improve the gaps in knowledge.”

To do so, the team explained, they gathered and analyzed healthcare data and meteorological data from 2009 to 2019 to identify any trends and attempt to measure associations between weather and cancelations. They found that during extreme hot or cold temperatures, there was indeed an increase in missed appointments.

Although they are still analyzing the data, the research team is already looking at different ways to help patients get access to care during extreme weather events.

“As internists, we are not looking at preventing or slowing down climate change—we leave that to other [experts]. Our question is ‘What can we do to mitigate the effects of climate change for our patients,’” Dr. Fitzpatrick explained during the session.

Dr. Fitzpatrick went on to describe initial recommendations, including offering telemedicine visits for patients, assessing options for pharmacy prescription delivery, pop-up clinics and home healthcare visits. “When patients can’t get to us, perhaps we can get to the patients,” she said.

The research team also shared their next steps for their work, which includes assessing the impact of chronic diseases, such as asthma or heart disease; assessing the impact of specific precipitation (rain vs snow); and assessing the impact on specific vulnerable populations, such as age, gender, race, and zip code, to name a few.

As is tradition, the event generated engaging discussion among the audience.

Missed the event? Watch the complete recording of the session on the Drexel Libraries’ YouTube page. Stay tuned for updates about the 2023/24 ScholarSip series!

About ScholarSip

ScholarSip is an annual event series hosted by the Drexel University Libraries that seeks to nurture Drexel’s intellectual life and cross-campus community through informal gatherings where faculty and professional staff exchange ideas sparked by greater awareness of interdisciplinary research. Each event includes social time to build acquaintances and a short “food for thought” presentation from a member of the Drexel community. ScholarSip provides an opportunity for members of the Drexel community to gather for conversation – along with a toast to the end of the academic term.

For more information about ScholarSip or to suggest a future topic, please contact Libraries Communications Manager Stacy Stanislaw at