Medical home transformed to include families, communities

Five Alaska health care providers have been awarded grants to transition to an emerging health care model that seeks to provide holistic, team-based care at low cost. The concept -- called the patient-centered medical home model -- has been around nearly 20 years. The model is finally making its way to Alaska, bringing along the potential to drastically shift how health care operates in the state. It's been described as a "quiet health-care revolution" by David D'Amato, senior director of health policy with the Alaska Primary Care Association.

"This is the beginning of a statewide system change," D'Amato said about the grants on Friday. The goal of the model is to treat the whole person, not just address a given affliction. It seeks to combine mind and body and acknowledge that behavioral health issues contribute to illness. The model relies on team-based care to provide the best possible treatment at the lowest cost. To achieve these goals, providers are held to strict tracking standards for both initial visits and follow-up care. Patients are treated by one physician and a team of care coordinators to build a solid relationship between patient and provider. Specialist referrals are done in-house when possible. And proposed payment methods are vastly different from the current system, as providers seek to prevent disease instead of treating illness as it arises.

Research has shown the success of this model nationally and in Alaska. A 2013 study found that under the model at Southcentral Foundation -- an Alaska Native-owned nonprofit serving nearly 60,000 Alaska Natives and American Indians -- emergency care use dropped while patients gained better access to primary care services and better relationships with their doctors. The state's first foray into patient-centered medical homes came in 2011, when state funding for a pilot project was secured for three community health centers in Alaska. A handful of other organizations have since made the switch, including the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center. "We've proven it can be done," D'Amato said.

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