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Mark Westfall Brings a Distance Runner’s Focus to Health Care Challenges

Dr. Mark Westfall oversees the OSI Finish Line Medical Pavilion at the Community First Fox Cities Marathon Presented by Miron Construction.

One of the great challenges of health care today is access, getting to see a physician in a time of need, quickly.

Well, this doctor is ready, and will see you right away. The problem is, you don’t want to see him. Especially on Sunday, September 22.

Dr. Mark Westfall is the Medical Director of the Community First Fox Cities Marathon Presented by Miron Construction, leading the team that oversees the medical needs for the nearly 7,000 participants in this year’s festival of races on September 20-22, culminating in the marathon and half marathon events on the 22nd.

On that Sunday, you’ll find Westfall – if you must – at the Orthopedic & Sports Institute Finish Line Medical Pavilion at Riverside Park in Neenah. Westfall, an emergency physician at Theda Clark Medical Center and EMS medical director for Gold Cross Ambulance Service, is in his sixth consecutive year as Medical Director.

For many years prior to assuming the role of Medical Director, Westfall helped to coordinate the event’s on-course ambulance services, the first responders who need to be prepared for any 911 call or life-threatening emergency during the event weekend.

The avid distance runner would also run the marathon course right before the event, just because.

Getting ready to provide medical attention at multiple races – the marathon and half marathon combined boast more than 4,000 athletes – calls for a preparedness and the ability to problem solve.

To meet the needs of race participants, Westfall and his team incorporate best practices established by the International Institute for Race Medicine. He has also visited Boston, Chicago, Walt Disney World and race sites around the country to observe onsite medical teams in action.

“Our goal is to provide the same type of care at the Fox Cities Marathon as one would get in Boston or New York,” said Westfall. “By connecting and sharing information with medical coordinators, both nationally and internationally, we can share ideas and innovations that make our races here as safe as they can be.”

One strategy to quickly respond to medical emergencies is through the use of the RunnersHealth Medical QR Code®, technology created to provide immediate access to vital health information of athletes experiencing acute illness or injury.

This year, every participant wearing a pre-printed race bib will have a unique medical QR code with their name, address, phone number, and emergency contact immediately available to first responders and emergency personnel through a safe and secure app. More extensive information, such as multiple emergency contacts, medications, allergies, and medical conditions, will also be accessible if provided.

Or as Westfall would say, “It’s information that can help save your life in case of an emergency.”

In the case of distance events, injury or accidents will happen. Not having a participant’s health information in an emergency situation was a recurring issue. Previously, little if any information could be known.

That’s why Westfall founded the company that created the QR code technology. But don’t call him an entrepreneur.

“I don’t view myself as an entrepreneur, because I don’t go seeking a company that I can build up,” said Westfall. “I look at myself as a problem solver.”

Case in point: the CPR Micro Shield.

In 1985, Westfall was teaching CPR, at the time the AIDS epidemic was peaking in the United States. People wouldn’t do mouth to mouth CPR in those days due to the risk of infection from the HIV virus. At the time, there was a pocket mask, but it was that in name only: it was far too big for your pocket. Due to the cumbersome design, the intended safeguards of the product were not readily put into use.

In other words, there was a problem.

Westfall thought about it, then decided to cut up his wife’s sewing machine cover (yes, she knew), took the handle of a milk carton, taped them together, put it in his mouth and blew. Yes, that could work. You don’t touch the lips of the patient, and the air goes in.

Westfall then found a plastics engineer with a patent on a valve, and together designed the Micro Shield, still on the market and still the preferred CPR mask that protects the rescuer and allows the rescuer to perform proper CPR according to established guidelines and procedures.

Another goal of Westfall’s is to broaden the health records platform used in races such as the Fox Cities Marathon and apply that technology in the schools.

“Parents fill out emergency forms for their kids and where do these go?” asked Westfall. “Into a file cabinet, and then when there’s an emergency, no one sees it.”

With a new app that is being developed, emergency personnel will have that information immediately. For sports, trips, camps, you name it. If a family moves from one school district to another, the information will follow them.

Westfall got the idea long ago when accompanying his daughter on a class field trip.

“I saw the teacher lugging around a huge binder and knew there had to be a better way,” he said.

Westfall envisions, and of course is working on, developing the app into what he calls a health management platform, where there will be access to a list of all your medications, shots, allergies and – best of all – a way to purchase your medications by price and closest pharmacy. Videos about medications and access to online pharmacists are among the innovative app’s design features.

“How do you find health care?” Westfall asks. “It needs to be as easy as finding a restaurant.”

On a smartphone, it takes even the not-so-very-tech savvy person only a few clicks to find the right menu and price options, and then to make the reservation. It’s all right there.

Westfall is aghast that something as important as health care has nothing similar to offer consumers.

“Our app will connect you to your school, get you better pricing for pharmacy, and can find you verified, high-quality, cost-efficient health care,” he said.

A successful venture will place Westfall at the forefront of customer-oriented medicine.

Kind of makes him an entrepreneur.

“Nope,” said Westfall. “Just a problem solver.”