A doctor’s office that’s all about you

More than 25,000 doctors commit to patient-centered care

Remember when bankers kept, well, banker’s hours, and you couldn’t cash a check after 4 p.m. or on weekends? Banks finally woke up to their customers’ needs for convenient hours. Today customer-focused service is making itself felt in some of America’s medical offices.

In these reorganized practices, evening and weekend hours are only part of the difference. When you visit your doctor you won’t feel you’re getting the bum’s rush before you have a chance to get your questions answered. If you’ve had a blood test or a CT scan, you won’t have to call the office half a dozen times chasing down the results. And if you leave the hospital with an incomprehensible “discharge plan,” someone from your doctor’s office will help you arrange your follow-up care.

If you’re already getting this type of service, you may be part of a “patient-­centered medical home,” the fastest-growing innovation in medical care. More than 10 percent of primary care practitioners—about 27,000 U.S. doctors in 5,560 offices—are now recognized as “patient-centered medical homes” by the main accrediting group, the National Committee for Quality Assurance. Many thousands more are transforming their practices under other umbrellas. And major national insurers, such as Aetna and Wellpoint, are paying qualified practices an extra few dollars per patient per month to defray the additional costs involved in the switch.

The idea of patient-centered medical homes has been germinating for years among primary care practitioners. The Affordable Care Act gave them a boost by funding pilot programs to strengthen and reform primary care; the most ambitious pilot is paying 500 practices in eight states to turn themselves into medical homes for more than 300,000 Medicare beneficiaries. If any of those pilots, funded by the new Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, turn out to effectively improve care and lower cost, Medicare and Medicaid can roll them out nationwide without additional congressional approval.

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