About twice a month, Ohio University physician and faculty member Dr. Timothy Law loads medical equipment into his truck and travels approximately five hours to Kentucky to provide healthcare to the Amish.
When he closed his regular medical practice to work at OU’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2012, Law did not want to give up working in Kentucky to work with Amish patients, which he has now been doing for nearly 20 years.
Law said there is not much of a difference between treating the Amish and treating any other demographic. He said, as a physician, his job often comes down to seeing it from the patient’s perspective.
“Often people say, ‘How do you treat the Amish? They don't use medicine,’ ” Law, the associate medical director of the Rural and Urban Scholars Program, said. “Not true. They like to keep things as simple and natural as possible. At the same time, they love their children the same as we do and want to make sure they’re taken care of as best as possible by the establishment.”
Law goes on weekend trips to his home in Kentucky and visits Amish patients in their houses. He frequently brings students with him.
“You can see someone in a sterile office like this,” he said, gesturing around his office in Irvine Hall, “and think you have all the answers after talking to them for three minutes. Until you go to their house and see what’s happening behind the scenes, you can’t devise the best system of medical care to help them, which is why I love taking students with me. They don’t get to see that anywhere else.”
Tim Cutler, a second-year medical student on the Cleveland campus of OU-HCOM, traveled to Kentucky with Law in November.
What surprised Cutler the most was the relationship Law had with his patients.
“Dr. Law isn’t home in Kentucky all the time,” Cutler said. “He has limited time when he can go see them. Every house that we go to are very familiar with Law and really trust him.”
Michelle Bogard, a sophomore studying biology pre-medicine, had the same impression when she went on a trip in late January.
“The Amish have a sense of trust with Dr. Law where they wouldn’t listen to any other doctor the way they do with him,” Bogard said. “It’s a cool community that he has installed himself in pretty well.”
Cutler said Law’s work is impressive, considering the Amish live with limited access to communication and cannot be reached via telephone or social media.
“Dr. Law might receive a letter from them or send something in the mail,” Cutler said. “He’s very dedicated and resourceful in communicating with patients, not just taking care of them."
One of the Amish families Law treats has 11 children, four of whom have cystic fibrosis. They would likely rack up medical bills, but Law does not charge them. To repay Law, the family’s father brought three men with him and built an 18-foot octagonal altar area for Law’s daughter’s wedding. The altar was complete in one day.
“They are a proud people and don’t want charity,” Law said. “That was his way of paying me back for the medical care I’ve given his children.”
Law views his trips as a way to show students there’s more than one way to practice medicine, he said.
Because of their religious and cultural beliefs, Amish health care practices are significantly different from most Americans’.
The Amish are excluded from social security and health insurance coverage. They do not use birth control, and less than a quarter of Amish children have received immunizations against common childhood diseases, according to an article by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Bogard recognizes the importance of providing healthcare to a population that is often medically underserved.
“People don’t realize all the different communities in the U.S. that don’t have access to good health care,” Bogard said. “It’s really life-changing, even if you’re not interested in rural medicine.”