The Patient-Centered Medical Home: A Primer

The term “patient-centered medical home” has a nice ring to it, but what does it really mean? And how does it function in the real world? The model is evolving, but here are the main components of the PCMH and how they’ve been implemented in real practice, at least so far:

“PERSONAL” PHYSICIAN: This is the doctor, usually a family or general practice physician, who shepherds patients through the medical system. In practice, this means things like encouraging patient questions about their care, extra efforts to educate patients on their health, and nurses making detailed follow-up calls with patients to make sure they’ve gotten their medications and know how to take them, and communicating any other steps the patient should be taking.

“Whole-person orientation”: The personal physician is responsible for taking care of all of the patient’s medical needs, either himself or by arranging care with specialists. The care ranges from preventive to chronic to end-of-life. In practice, this often means having appointments made with another doctor, if necessary, before the patient leaves the primary-care doctor, or seeing several doctors of different specialties during the same appointment.

Coordinated or integrated care: Care in the PCMH spans all aspects of the healthcare system, from subspecialists to the hospital to the nursing home. In practice, this means the use of electronic registries and health information exchange systems to make sure every health professional has all the information they should have about the patient.

Quality and safety: In practice, it means the development of a care plan that is bolstered by close relationships between patients, doctors, and family members. Plus, a good PCMH will have a more collegial atmosphere, with regular meetings among doctors of varying specialties. Evidence-based medicine is the guide. And feedback from the patient is sought more aggressively. Practices also can undergo a voluntary recognition process by a non-government-related healthcare quality organization, such as the National Committee for Quality Assurance.

Enhanced access: So that patients get the care when they need it, same-day scheduling is often offered. There are expanded hours, and phone and email communication is used more often.

Payment: The payment system in a PCMH encourages better primary care and prevention of illness. Still, most PCMH practices currently use a blend of fee-for-service, a monthly “care coordination” fee, and incentives for quality care.

Source: Adapted from 2007’s Joint Statement on Patient-Centered Medical Home, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

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