Opinion: Future of health care includes return to traditional medical values

By Polly Anderson

Critics of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act call it too radical, too expensive and a threat to high quality medicine. But in truth, federal health reform emphasizes a return to the caring, personalized, evidence-based medicine that is well established at Colorados community health centers.

While some are still debating the merits of expanding Colorados Medicaid program to a larger percentage of the poor, Colorado community health centers are not waiting to move forward. A growing pool of evidence tells us that our model is the future, and were preparing for a groundswell in patients, be they through insurance plans sold on the exchange or through Medicaid. They are attracted to a modern practice based on traditional medical values.

Sometimes we think of our approach as old fashioned Our docs tell us they work here because we fulfill their original vision as medical students: to heal people without regard to income or insurance status.

With a 45-year track record, the core value that drives Colorados community health centers is the belief that everyone deserves health care. We believe that patients thrive when they have a relationship with a caring primary care provider who, with a dedicated team, coordinates all their care. That its better for patients when they can get all their medical care drugs, counseling, lab tests and dentistry in one place.

Our providers also know that its important to measure the effectiveness of everything we do. We strive to provide the right care at the right time. We welcome family members and encourage them to participate in our patients medical decisions. We understand that its just as important to promote wellness diet, exercise and disease management as it is to chase illness.

Weve been on this path for decades, but now theres growing proof that this old-school style of medicine is actually the future of health care.

Last month, the Denver Post described how Dr. David Homer, a primary care physician in Telluride, closed his decades-old fee-for-service medical practice to head the Uncompahgre Medical Center, a federally qualified community health center in the rural frontier town of Norwood. Homer said he liked the team-based approach, electronic medical records and the knowledge he was practicing evidence-based care. Fee-for-service medicine, he said, is not the future.

Then, earlier this month, a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that community health centers demonstrate equal or better performance on select quality measures than private practices. This in spite of serving patients who have more chronic disease and socioeconomic complexity. Stanford University published research in the journal because it is impressive showing that health center doctors followed professional and federal recommended practice guidelines more frequently than their private practice peers. With all other things being equal, patients served by community health centers are healthier and get better preventive care.

Having worked in community health centers, I can see how it makes sense, said Dr. Randall Stafford, a professor of medicine and one of the studys authors, in an article in Inside Stanford Medicine. These are centers where physicians are not as profit-driven and many have incentives more in line with providing quality care.

Finally, theres the news in June that five communities in Colorado will get new community health center sites to serve thousands of uninsured patients.

The future of health care is already here at Colorado community health centers, where our back-to-the-future model combines innovative solutions, modern technology and traditional medical values. The evidence just confirms what our patients and staff have known for years.

Polly Anderson is chief policy officer for the Colorado Community Health Network, the unified voice for Colorados community health centers and their patients. Reach her at polly@cchn.org.

Opinions communicated in Solutions represent the view of individual authors, and may not reflect the position of the University of Colorado Denver or the University of Colorado system.