Transforming Primary Care In Order To Achieve A Healthy Healthcare System

Transforming Primary Care In Order To Achieve A Healthy Healthcare System

In its 2001 seminal report “Crossing the Quality Chasm:  A New Health System for the 21rst Century”, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) described the current state of health care delivery.  The report described a health care system that was fragmented, poorly designed and most importantly not delivering quality care. It also outlined a plan with very specific performance objectives designed to close the quality gap and support the patient-provider relationship. These objectives called for a radical redesign of the health system to achieve six aims—safe, effective, patient-centered, timely, efficient, and equitable care.  A new phase in health care improvement is now emerging: one that focuses on value. Value considers providing safe, effective, and efficient care at the right cost. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) has developed a model for optimizing health, care experience, and costs for populations — The Triple Aim. This is a structure in which we know and care about:

  1. Patient and Family experience,
  2. The quality of care delivered, and
  3. How our efforts impact the cost of care.

I would add from my own perspective that we care about our community and providing care for all.

My career started working as a nurse in a hospital system before I moved to the ambulatory care setting. As a nurse there are moments in my career that haunt me. These tragic events had catastrophic impact on patients and families. It was not the failure of caring and competent staff which led to these haunting memories–it was the lack of systems and process to support evidence based care. These experiences drive my passion for a healthier health care delivery system.

In my current position with Colorado Beacon Consortium as Director, Community Collaboratives and Practice Transformation, I have the pleasure of helping primary care practices in transformation and learning from their amazing efforts. In my 15 years working with primary care practices, I have never met a staff member clinical or non-clinical who came to work hoping not to deliver the best possible care. Practices need support for these transformational changes.  Having a “small test of change” fail has meaning for clinical staff because of our educational experience. Failure in the clinical training means that a patient is harmed. Clinical staff need to understand that failures in the quality improvement process mean that the team will not be wasting their time on processes that do not bring value to their patients or to the practice.

In an era of incentive programs such as Meaningful Use and system designs such as Accountable Care Organizations, now more than ever strong Primary Care delivery systems is necessary for creating a healthier health care system. Primary Care transformation is integral is achieving the goals articulated in Crossing the Quality Chasm.

Now more than ever Primary Care needs support to transform systems and processes to make their best better. Redesign efforts started with the development of the Chronic Care Model by Dr. Edward Wagner and the MacColl Institute. The Chronic Care Model serves as a structure to organize care delivery for patients with chronic disease by maximizing proactive team based care, implementing processes which deliver evidence based care, utilizing health information technology (HIT) and delivering proactive care. Through several national organizations such as Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Health Disparities Collaboratives, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), the MacColl Institute and more recent initiatives such as National Demonstration Project and Improving Performance in Practice (IPIP) best practices in primary care transformation have been developed.

The Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH) has been recognized as a catalyst to support Primary Care transformation that delivers on the expectations described in Crossing the Quality Chasm.Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) describes PCMH as:

  • Patient-Centered
  • Comprehensive  & Coordinated care
  • Superb access to care
  • A systems-based approach to quality and safety

These attributes must be supported by a foundation of Health Information Technology and rich data which provides knowledge to drive outcomes.  The other structural change must come in the form of a payment structure that supports primary care and the attributes that will drive the value primary care delivery will bring to healthcare.

A comprehensive program to recognize practices who implement the attributes of PCMH has been developed by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) Physician Practice Connections- Patient-Centered Medical Home (PPC-PCMH). NCQA has recently updated the recognition program.

The 2011 program includes the core components of primary care:

  • PCMH 1: Enhance Access and Continuity
  • PCMH 2: Identify and Manage Patient Populations
  • PCMH 3: Plan and Manage Care
  • PCMH 4: Provide Self-Care and Community Support
  • PCMH 5: Track and Coordinate Care
  • PCMH 6: Measure and Improve Performance

The transformation process for primary care is more than tinkering around the edges. This process of change requires a foundation of culture and leadership that is supportive of the efforts within the practice. This can be either through the leadership structure of a broader organization or within a small independent primary care practice. The Primary Care Practice team members are being asked to reconsider the hierarchical nature of medicine for a team based approach to patient-centered care. All members of the team to participate in the redesign process and in evidence based care delivery. Practices establish structures to make “small tests of change” that are reviewed to understand if the impact is positive in delivering safe, effective, evidence based care.  Implementing self-management support with primary care builds on the most intimate of relationships between patient & families and the care team. Self-management techniques utilized in the care setting build on patient activation and engagement in their care. Technology is a tool to be maximized and utilized meaningfully.

Clearly, we understand the role of Primary Care in supporting our current sick health care system to become healthier. This transformation takes time and requires support. As we establish principles, goals, care models and incentive programs to create a healthy health care system, it is important not to lose sight of the need to also transform the current payment model with is perfectly designed to assure that our fragmented, ineffective, dysfunctional and harmful health care system continues.


Crossing the Quality Chasm

Institute for Healthcare Improvement

Improving Chronic Illness Care

HRSA Healthcare Communities

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

National Committee for Quality Assurance

Office of the National Coordinator for HIT (ONC)

Colorado Beacon Consortium

Center for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS)

Partnership with Patients

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