Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Patient Centered Medical Home

If you stick around the military long enough, you will experience change, which may come as a surprise to people, since we are known as one of the biggest bureaucracies in the world! Since I have been on active duty, we have changed the names of our units (remember Strategic Air Command?), added new units (Space Command is a great example) and closed multiple bases. In the medical service, we have tried multiple ways to provide consistent, quality care to our patients (Primary Care Optimization and Primary Care Management, to name two) and now, we are changing again.

A few years ago, we started hearing more about something termed Family Health Initiative (FHI), and most of us feared it was just another attempt at putting a shine on what was quickly becoming a failing mission. We were undermanned, overdeployed and, in many cases, overenrolled. A case in point, before leaving Texas for Afghanistan, I was assigned more than 2,000 patients, well over the suggested cap of 1,500. But, we had a couple unfilled provider positions, and the patients needed a provider, so we muddled through as best we could. And, when I deployed, the sole primary-care physician who remained carried a load two to three times that until replacements arrived.

With that kind of workload, we had very little control over schedules, and a frequent complaint was the feeling of “running on a hamster wheel,” as we tried to meet the rising demands. I don’t think this was an issue specific to our little corner of the world; it was a frustration voiced by providers at many military treatment facilities and likely echoed the struggles of our civilian counterparts, who experience their own provider shortages.

So, we spent a few days last week learning more about FHI (now renamed Patient Centered Medical Home) and making plans for implementing this philosophy over the next few months. This is not a military-specific patient care theory, but a model being executed in the civilian community in an effort to maximize available providers and contain health care costs. For us, it will involve a change in staffing ratios and a decrease in maximum enrollment numbers. We will be shifted into teams of eight, composed of a physician, a mid-level (a term I still don’t love), a nurse and five medical technicians. (That’s the ideal composition. When we continue to deploy and our staffing is already below expectations, we will aim for three technicians per team.) We will be responsible for 2,500 patients (1,250 per provider) and be given more freedom to creatively meet patient demand through improved template management.

I honestly can’t yet say that I am 100 percent on board with the change. Part of me still sees it as a name change with lots of empty promises. One concern: Even though there is a strict cap placed on enrollment, as well as “cross booking” between providers, there are still requirements to see patients who are promised care and, after dividing those between our available providers, we are again back to 1,500 patients each. Also, there is an expectation to meet the needs of our patients on a daily basis. So, if there is a spike in viral illness and a need for more acute or walk-in visits, we are expected to do it. This can wreak havoc when my leaving work on time is necessary to make our usually maxed-out, kid-centered evenings work as planned! Between homework and sports, there is little room for overtime at work!

I would love to become a convert to anything that will provide consistent care to our patients. I know they are tired of seeing a new provider every visit and “starting over” every time. Rumor has it that, after the first few months of working out the kinks, most providers really enjoy the new model. I’ll keep you posted on the transition.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

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