Saint Agnes Hospital will soon become the latest health system in the Baltimore area to create a one-stop-shopping medical center for its primary care patients.
The Saint Agnes Medical Group, Catonsville, set to open May 4 in a retail space that used to house a Room Store, will function as a patient-centered medical home, a model for providing outpatient primary care that has become increasingly attractive to health systems in the past few years.
These facilities focus on providing personal attention to patients, offering a team of doctors and specialists that share data and coordinate care for patients, and reducing the need to re-admit chronically ill patients to hospitals.
“As an industry, I think, medicine made it hard for people to take good care of themselves,” said Dr. Bill Cook, chair of the Seton Medical Group at Saint Agnes and one of the physicians who will be working at the center. After an initial exam, a doctor might send a patient to other practices for tests or to see specialists — something patients with busy schedules might not be able to do promptly.
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In the patient-centered medical home, many of those tests and examinations by other doctors can be done on the same day, under the same roof, Cook said. “The industry is evolving in that direction now,” he said. “We’re all merging onto the same highway.”
The 38,000-square-foot, 56-exam room facility is intended to provide patients with same-day access to doctors, specialists and lab services as and to offer weekend hours and shorter wait times, said Dr. Ken Williams, president of the Seton Medical Group, who will also practice out of the new facility.
The center will combine three existing primary-care practices that are already part of the Saint Agnes system and serve 70,000 patients each year, Williams said. Sixteen primary-care doctors, plus two OBGYN physicians and a mix of specialists — who will be on-site, part time — will practice out of the center, and a variety of laboratory and diagnostic work will be done on-site, he said.
Patients will also have the convenience of longer business hours, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays and some hours Saturday mornings, Williams said. Additional after-hours care is likely to be phased in this fall, he said.
Dealing with ‘absurd waste’
Expanded hours of operation are one of the crucial services that patient-centered medical homes provide, said Dr. John Chessare, CEO of the Greater Baltimore Medical Center HealthCare System, which operates 14 such facilities in the Baltimore area that treat nearly 100,000 patients. The first of their facilities opened in 2011, he said.
When a doctor’s office closes at 5 p.m., patients who can’t get time off from work have three options: They can ignore their symptoms, or they can go to an emergency room or an urgent care center, Chessare said. Those visits are part of what the patient-centered medical homes are trying to prevent, Chessare said.
“It’s an answer to the absurd waste in the U.S. health care system,” Chessare said. “It’s not the whole answer, but it’s an answer.”
Cook said he and others from Saint Agnes visited one of the GMBC’s sites as they planned their Catonsville facility. “They’re thinking like us,” he said.
Moving primary care toward the patient-centered medical home model makes financial sense for Saint Agnes because it’s the sort of care and convenience that more patients are seeking, said Patrick Mutch, executive vice president of physician and strategic services with Saint Agnes. The size of the new facility will also allow the center to increase the number of patients it treats, he said.
State health care cost regulations now offer incentives for hospitals to reduce re-admissions, Mutch said. “More access, more preventative care will obviously result in [fewer] hospitalizations,” he said.
The Catonsville location is centrally located for most of Saint Agnes’s primary care patients, Mutch said.
Johns Hopkins Medicine operates 11 patient-centered medical homes at primary care facilities across the state.
Maryland has also been studying the patient-centered medical home model. A three-year study begun by the Maryland Health Care Commission in 2011 examined a pilot medical home program consisting of 52 primary-care practices.
The final results of the pilot are expected to be released next month, but an overview of the first annual report from late 2013 available on the commission’s website said that first-year findings indicated that the patient-centered medical home model improved the patient experience, enhanced the provider satisfaction and increased the quality of health-care delivery.