Patient-Centered Medical Homes a Promising Tool for U.S. Health Care System

I recently returned from a safety net conference that included an excellent four-hour patient-centered medical homes (PCMH) workshop. The Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City recently hosted a local summit on the subject. With PCMHs an important tool in the Affordable Care Act, there is a real buzz about patient-centered medical homes and their role in improving the U.S. health care system.

Yet for all the exposure, there seems to be confusion as to the exact definition of PCMHs. Perhaps it’s because the term itself seems a bit academic — an inherit problem in any term reduced to an acronym. I’ve heard other terms for PCMHs that may be more intuitively descriptive – health care homes and medical homes.

Whatever term is used, the idea is the same – move from a fragmented fee-for-service approach where providers are chosen based on a patient’s health insurance, to a system of care where patient convenience is a priority and quality is rewarded. It could even be described as a one-stop shopping approach.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes that there are five components of the medical home: patient-centered, comprehensive care, coordinated care, superb access to care, and a systems-based approach to quality care.

Patient health outcomes are the focus in this system. Physicians and nurses lead the way, and trust and collaboration are essential. Relationships are the glue in this approach, and Care Coordinators are the key position in the medical home that keeps the system running smoothly.

The model looks different depending on the context – Care Coordinators could be nurses in one setting or social workers in another, or both in larger organizations. Delineations between the medical side and mental health may also need to be determined.

By focusing on patient health outcomes, medical homes constantly seek to improve. Professional development and best practices become routine. Providers will communicate and share data more than ever before.

Based on the medical homes workshop I attended, policy makers and health insurance companies are taking this approach seriously. Both sides know that costs need to come down, without sacrificing patient health outcomes. Medical homes offer the most promise for not only reducing costs, but for also improving patient care. It’s a win-win.

Safety Net

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