By Julie Ann Madden
The Akron Mercy Medical Clinic is one of the first family medical practices to be recognized as a Patient-Centered Medical Home.
In fact, the Akron clinic is the first one to have this designation in the whole Mercy network.
National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), a private not-for-profit organization, defines this “Medical Home” as a health care setting that facilitates partnerships between individual patients and their personal physicians, and when appropriate, the patient’s family. Care is facilitated by registries, information technology, health information exchange and other means to assure that patients get the indicated care when and where they need and want it in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner.”
Recently, the Akron Mercy Medical Clinic received the NCQA seal of quality for Level 3, the highest level of Patient-Centered Medical Home.
To receive this, organizations must first pass a rigorous, comprehensive review and must annually report on their performance, according to NCQA information. This seal is a reliable indicator that an organization is well-managed and delivers high quality care and service.
The trend in health care is toward being more patient-centered and focused on preventative care, said Dr. Cindie Wolff of the Akron Mercy Medical Clinic. The United States’ health care system concentrates on the treatment of acute care when ultimately chronic illness accounts for 80 percent of health care dollars spent in the United States. Our country spends more than any other country on health care and has relatively poor outcomes from that investment.
Sixty percent of American adults have at least one chronic illness, she said. Specifically, 91 percent of those 65 and older have at least one chronic illness and 20 percent of Medicare patients have five or more chronic illnesses.
This is why there is a huge shift toward the prevention of chronic illness and improvement in the health of those who already suffer from chronic diseases, said Wolff.
The idea for patient-centered medical homes was first done by the Academy of Family Practice and the Academy of Pediatrics, she said.
“We know people do better, health care wise, if they have a medical home where there’s one place that’s keeping track of everything,” said Wolff. “One place that knows their medical history, what vaccinations administered, what tests have been done, and makes sure preventive care is done.”
“Medical Homes have been shown over and over to be the most cost effective and the best best health care,” she said. “That’s why it is so important and it saves money.”
“It keeps people out of hospitals,” said Wolff. “It makes sure they stay healthier.”
Clinic staff have been working on achieving this recognition for several years, she said, explaining they installed special computer software that allows patients to access their charts online as well as patients receive a health history printout every time they come in.
“We’ve been making a lot of changes and just moving in a pretty exciting way,” said Wolff. “We’re proactive in working with patients. We’re getting them whatever help, guidance and resources out there — everything we can to make sure we can manage their chronic care better.”
A large part of this Patient-Centered Medical Home is having health coaches.
A health coach helps people who are having a difficult time managing their chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension or asthma.
Akron Mercy Medical Clinic is fortunate to have two nurses who have completed the training requirements to be certified health coaches: Noelle Knapp and Heather Morehead.
“We’re basically a support person for the patient,” said Morehead.
Health coaches work with patients to set goals and through their achieving those goals, she explained. “The patient chooses everything — from whether to have a health coach to which goals they want to work on.”
For instance, if a person with diabetes is struggling with their blood sugars, the health coaches work with the patients and the medical provider to reach goals to improve the blood sugars.
“The medical provider will work on adjusting their medications while we work with them as far as what they might do in their lifestyle to help them improve their sugars,” explained Morehead.
“The person may want to work on weight loss,” added Knapp. “They make a goal and we work closely with them to achieve their goal.”
“No goal is too small,” said Morehead. “Once we meet that goal, we form another.”
“There’s a lot of communication between provider visits,” said Morehead. “I’d call it a relationship that is ongoing all the time.”
The health coaches offer encouragement as well as hold patients’ accountable by contacting them.
“Patients don’t see it as a negative,” said Wolff. “They love it. It really helps.”
“Noelle and Heather really make a big difference in a person’s success,” said Wolff. “We’ve already seen big improvement in patients who have been doing this.”
“It’s the relationship,” said Knapp, who is also a certified lactation consultant who works with breast feeding mothers.
“It’s very rewarding to see a patient succeed,” said Morehead. “That’s ultimately why we went into nursing — to try to make a difference for people.”
“There is no charge to patients for the health coaching services,” said Wolff. “We do this because we know it makes huge differences for our patients.”