Our Journey – By Dr. Karissa Walton

The road to mobile health has been a long and bumpy one. This journey first began when I was faced with my mother’s diagnosis of Stage IV colon cancer. At the time, I had just graduated college and was working for the University of Arizona. I was also taking Graduate classes while preparing to apply for medical school to fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a physician. Shortly after my mother’s diagnosis, I knew it was time to hit the brakes on my high-speed track toward medical school so that I could care for her full-time.

Following the initial shock of her prognosis, my mother and I decided to do everything possible to find solutions to the unanswered questions left by the conventional medical system. After countless hours in hospitals and oncologist offices, while being told over and over again that my mother only had a few painful months of life remaining, we both refused to accept this dark fate. Instead, we decided it was time to change our route and pursue other options.

This marked the turning point in my understanding of medicine and opened my eyes to the limitless possibilities of true health. I helped my mother establish with a local Naturopathic Doctor (ND) and begin intensive cancer treatment. In a short period of time, the cancer began to respond and I witnessed a dramatic shift in my mother’s health. Aside from the cancer diagnosis, she was healthier than ever before. The few months of survival every other doctor had given her quickly turned into several more, which then turned into a year.

My mother continued therapy the best that she could, but was eventually limited by finances as insurance would not cover any of the treatments. I began fundraising for her care, but it wasn’t enough to keep up with the medical costs. My mother’s health then began to rapidly decline to the point that she became homebound and could no longer access the therapies that had helped her the most. Her doctor did everything he could to continue treatment and even joked about flying his plane to her house. I didn’t realize it then, but the seed for mobile health had been planted.

Caring for my 46-year-old homebound mother seemed like a natural transition at the time, after working as a live-in caregiver and volunteering for the VA Respite Care program during college. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long until she was placed on Hospice and given limited end-of-life resources such as opioids and anti-nausea medications. At that point, I faced the harsh reality that these medications were merely masking what was to come. This marked the beginning of the few dark months the previous doctors had predicted.

Dr. Karissa with her mother after a self-defense fundraiser for her mother’s cancer treatment.

“Never take your health for granted” was one of the final messages my mother told me during this time. At just 23 years old, I took these words to heart and vowed to always put health first for myself and my future patients. Although I did eventually lose my mother, I will never forget the glimmer of health and hope that I saw in her. I also couldn’t help but wonder what the outcome may have been if she had more access to the healthcare she so desperately needed. I knew it was time to embark on my journey to become the best physician I could be.

After another long and difficult road of medical school, clinical training, and board exams, I reached the first destination in my lifelong journey. I was finally a licensed physician, but not just any physician; I was a Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD). I was determined to change the world, or at least the face of healthcare as we know it today. I was ready to make a difference in people’s lives and teach them that it is possible to live the healthy life they love.

The “office” that made Dr. Karissa realize she didn’t need one

I joined a clinic in Prescott, AZ where I began practicing in early 2019. Instead of the fancy doctor office most would envision, I was given a tiny desk that was essentially in a closet behind the front desk area. I started seeing patients in a small exam room shared with another doctor. I carried everything I needed in an old-fashioned leather doctor bag that my family had given me for graduation. I found joy in the exam room with my patients, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that something was missing. I still didn’t feel like I was making the impact that I set out to make.

Coincidentally, I had a few patients with cancer diagnoses who were having trouble making it into the office. There were also several ongoing cancellations by patients who were “too sick to go to the doctor.” This made me start thinking back to everything I had been through with my mother. I’ll never forget wishing her doctor could come to the house when she needed care the most. I then started thinking about my present situation and realized I didn’t need a fancy office nor did I need much space to treat patients. Then I thought, “What if I brought the clinic to my patients?” Thus, the idea of “The Mobile Health Doc” was born!

In July 2019, I envisioned a fully-equipped clinic on wheels in which I could serve patients in the comfort of their home while also having the ability to get out in the community and give more people access to healthcare. From that point on, everything started to fall into place… Within a few days, I was sitting with a good friend/business mentor and telling him about my idea. Not only did he encourage me to pursue it, but he also happened to have a Sprinter 3500 van sitting outside for sale. Without hesitation, I purchased the van and began researching. Sure enough, I found a company that specializes in medical vehicle build-outs.

Even though the company was experienced with medical vehicles, their previous builds were for very specific purposes—such as blood draws, eye exams, X-rays, and gynecology exams. They were very confused when I told them what I was envisioning for my mobile clinic. I still laugh when I think about the sales manager’s response, “What the heck is a hyperbaric chamber and where are we going to fit it?” After 7 different iterations of floor plans, then sealing off some mysterious holes and windows, we finally figured out how to turn my vision into a reality.

It all started with a doctor bag and some plastic bins…

By October 2019, I had my mobile clinic set up with all the equipment I needed. Since then, I’ve been able to serve patients in Prescott, Prescott Valley, Dewey, Chino Valley, and Camp Verde. I’m loving every minute of the journey and am honored to give our community access to healthcare you deserve!

grand opening of the mobile health doctor