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The Most Difficult Part Of The Patient-Centered Medical Home 

By Clive Riddle, July 31st, 2015

The medical home transformation for primary care, incorporating a team approach, technology, elements of care coordination and much more, has been a significant driver of change and innovation this decade. In the about to be released August issue of Medical Home News, the Thought Leaders Corner asks the question:  What was the most difficult part of the patient-centered medical home transformation that you experienced or observed? Here’s what the panel shared in their responses:

Sam JW Romeo, MD, MBA, of Tower Health & Wellness Center in Turlock, CA says  “having surveyed many organizations nationally for accreditation as a Medical Home, including the USAF primary care centers, the two hurdles (difficult parts of the PCMH) that are most prominent are: (1) payer emphasis on case management, and (2) cultural transformation needs within the medical profession. With regards to the case management emphasis, the payers want to save money first and foremost (‘quarterly reports’) more than provide care for patients.  They create the economic incentives and support structures to minimize, for example, hospitalization and ER use and, if per chance, they transform the provider to be more patient centric vs disease centric, whoopee!!  This transformation, however, is not often seen. With regard to the cultural change requirements, there is the ‘upstream’ challenge of providers being trained in medical schools and residencies to care for diseases in patients and not patients with or without disease.  The PCMH transformation requires providing patients with prevention (beyond immunizations and screening and the typical PQRS measures), wellness and lifestyle support, along with the care of disease.  The PCMH care model includes coordinating all of a patient’s care needs.  These needs include caring for the whole patient, i.e., body, mind and spirit, and this is not often in evidence.”

Joseph E. Scherger, MD, MPH, Vice President, Primary Care at Eisenhower Medical Center  and the Marie E. Pinizzotto, MD Chair of Academic Affairs at the Annenberg Center for Health Sciences in Rancho Mirage, CA states  “the most difficult part of adopting a PCMH model is changing how physicians and other providers work.  Implementing a care coordinator is not hard.  Having an advanced IT system is part of modern medicine.  But getting providers off the treadmill of many brief visits and spending time in longer visits with complex patients and doing population care coordination is a difficult paradigm shift.”

R. Scott Hammond, MD, FAAFP, Family Practice, Westminster Medical Clinic and Clinical Professor, University of Colorado School of Medicine, in Westminster, CO shares that  “Westminster Medical Clinic was early to the PCMH movement, being recognized in 2009.  Our biggest challenge was trying to understand exactly what we needed to do to satisfy NCQA standards.  At that time, there were few tracks to follow. I do not believe that is an issue now, as NCQA has improved and clarified their implementation guide. In retrospect, the most difficult part of transformation was sharing our vision of the PCMH with our entire staff and changing the culture of our practice to meet the patient-centered principles of the PCMH.  Only then were we able to operate as a collaborative team. This was also the most rewarding part of the journey.”

Mary Takach, BSN, MPH, Senior Program Director, National Academy for State health Policy, in Washington, DC opines that “The biggest challenge is exercising patience in the PCMH model and not pulling the plug after the first year or even the second year if there is no return on investment.  This is difficult for policymakers on both the public and private side -- especially for those under pressure to deliver balanced budgets.  Waiting for practice transformation to take root and move the dial on desired outcomes requires firm resolve and belief that the current system is broken and that transforming primary care delivery is the right direction to go.”

Nancy Meisinger RN, MBA, PCMH CCE, Director Of Practice Transformation, Delaware Valley ACO in Radnor, PA feels that “the concept of population management and proactive outreach to patients vs. waiting till they come into the office for a visit is often a difficult concept for the offices to put into practice in a systematic way.  In order to be effective it involves consistently documenting preventative and chronic care services within the EHR and maximizing the use of the clinical decision support tools.  Training of staff and use of protocols so that the process is as systematic and accurate as possible can be a challenge no matter what size patient panel the office manages.”

Amy Mullins, MD, CPE, FAAFP., Medical Director, Quality Improvement, American Academy of Family Physicians in Leawood, KS tells us  “much like patients, patient-centered medical homes are all different and the process to become one presents different challenges to different practices.  However, looking from a broad national view, physician engagement has proven to be a challenge for many.  Physicians are smart, busy, and highly motivated individuals who want to do what is best for their patients and eliminate any unnecessary work. To increase their engagement you need to prove to them that PCMH transformation will not only benefit their practice, but will positively impact the health outcomes of their patients.  Once physicians are engaged, the challenge shifts to empowering care team members and integrating the patient in team-based care, which is integral to the patient-centered medical home.”

David Tayloe, MD, FAAAP, Goldsboro Pediatrics in Goldsboro, NC is of the opinion that “educating providers about community resources has been, and continues to be, the most difficult step in transition to the patient-centered medical home.  Many children are at-risk for poor outcomes because of social determinants of health (poverty, parenting, education, substance abuse, abuse/neglect, mental health issues of caretakers).  These children need support within the community from various agencies.  Primary care providers must identify these children and refer them to necessary support services.  Many primary care providers are not aware of the support structure available in their communities.”

Jaan E. Sidorov, MD, FACP, Chief Medical Officer, medSolis and Author, Disease Management Care Blog, in Harrisburg, PA  says “changing established workflows is often underestimated.  There's a tempo to patient ‘throughput’ and the diversion of patients into new pathways involving other clinicians requires new space, hand-offs, duties, policies, and templates.  Unless carefully planned, patients' additional waiting times in office can balloon or they'll be waiting at home for a call that is hours late.  Increasing ‘stops’ in an episode of care doesn't increase work linearly, it complicates it exponentially.” 

And finally, George Valko, MD, Gustave and Valla Amsterdam Professor of Family and Community Medicine and Vice-Chair for Clinical Programs and Quality, Department of Family and Community Medicine, Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, and Medical Director, Jefferson Family Medicine Associates in Philadelphia, PA shares that “sfter deciding to pursue becoming a PCMH, I think the initial application for recognition and all that it entails, was the most difficult.  To me, it was a forest vs. trees analogy -- the whole process, using the NCQA in our case, is quite overwhelming. However, while sifting through the standards and elements, it became clear that we, and most others, were meeting many of the requirements already.  And, if we were not already meeting some requirements, many were activities we should have been doing in any case.  Now, ongoing improvements to become a true medical home, including changing the culture of a practice, doing outcomes measurements, and creating a medical neighborhood are and continue to be time consuming and costly.”

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