Can a simple change in the delivery of care impact patients’ health? As I opened the door to the Martin Luther King (MLK) Health Center in Shreveport, Louisiana, I was eager to find out.
The center is like many safety net health organizations that I work with as part of AmeriCares U.S. Medical Assistance Programteam. The MLK Health Center serves more than 1,000 low-income, uninsured and underinsured patients a year, many with chronic disease. But this center is using a unique group scheduling model and patient-centered care to improve patients’ health, their experience of care, and to reduce costs – the Triple Aim framework for health care reform endorsed by the Institute of Healthcare Improvement and other national experts.
Because the U.S. team at AmeriCares is rolling out a new chronic disease care program with the support of the GE Foundation, I wanted to see for myself these innovative approaches to quality care work at a charitable health center, a critical sector of the U.S. safety net.
I could see the difference in the waiting room: Patients were greeting each other by name. I felt like people really knew each other.
And I found out they did: Because they share a diagnosis of diabetes, these patients’ appointments are grouped together and held on the same day every three months. “Setting up clinic days for patients – having patients with the same condition come in regularly as teams with assigned providers – is one way to ensure that patients aren’t slipping through the cracks and are getting the care they need,” Janet Mentesane, Executive Director of the MLK Health Center, told me. Patients have individual appointments with their doctors but also meet together as a group, giving them an opportunity to connect and socialize.
Integrating care this way is having a measureable impact. “We have shown that our approach produces enhanced patient understanding of their conditions and improves health related behaviors,” Robert H. Jackson, MD, founder and Medical Director said. “We have also shown statistically significant improvement in a critical measure of diabetes control.” The MLK Health Center is also at the forefront of diabetes prevention: It is the only charitable clinic currently listed in pending status on the CDC’s National Registry of recognized diabetes prevention programs and offers the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), a lifestyle change program targeting patients at-risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
At the MLK Health Center, I saw how simply providing an opportunity for patients to connect and share with others in similar situations can boost the feeling of humanity in medicine and improve the overall experience of care in a safety net setting. Through the generosity of the GE Foundation, AmeriCares U.S. Medical Assistance Program is working to continue to build capacity in other free and charitable clinics throughout the country.
We can use the experience of those like the MLK Health Center not only as a model for our work but as an example for others to learn from.