October 19, 2012

Multnomah County Health Department has earned accreditation as a primary care medical home—the only health care organization to earn the designation in Oregon and one of only 30 granted such recognition nationwide.

On Oct. 1, The Joint Commission, an independent health care accreditation organization, issued the list of 30 health agencies named nationwide. Among them: the Health Department whose eight clinics serve more than 70,000 people a year.

The Patient-Care Team Relationship

A “primary care medical home” is a health organization where the care is built on the relationship between patients and their care team whose members understand and respect the patients’ needs, culture, values and preferences.

The team includes physicians, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, nurses, care coordinators and others. They work together to meet the needs of each patient’s physical prevention and wellness, acute care and chronic care. At Health Department clinics, for instance, the team members are located together and work side-by-side, sharing information, responsibility and accountability.

Superb Access to Care

“To be accredited is a mark of service and excellence, but to earn this certification shows our clinics are on the leading edge of providing better care for our patients,’’ said Dr. Meena Mital, interim Health Department medical director.

To earn certification, the Joint Commission reports that county clinics had to show they provide “superb access to care’’ in that patients have access to services with shorter waiting times for urgent needs, enhanced in-person hours, telephone or electronic access to members of the care team, and alternative methods of communication such as email and telephone.

According to the Commission, such medical homes also use evidence-based medicine and clinical decision support tools; engage in performance measurement and improvement; measure and respond to patient experiences and satisfaction; practice population health management, and publicly share quality and safety data and improvement activities. County clinics, for instance, post data on how long patients spend waiting on the telephone for appointments, and share regular patient satisfaction surveys with the Health Department’s advisory council.

“Our staff has worked hard to set up a system where patients know their care team, can more easily get a same-day appointment and can expect a telephone call reminding them to come in for their exam,’’ said Health Department director Lillian Shirley.

“This didn’t happen easily or overnight,” Shirley said. “It happened because our people care deeply about their patients.”

Accredited Clinics

The 8 primary care clinics that earned the designation are:

  • East County
  • Mid-County
  • North Portland
  • La Clinica de Buena Salud
  • Northeast
  • Rockwood
  • Westside
  • HIV Health Services Center.

Our clinics serve residents who are on the Oregon Health Plan or who lack health insurance altogether.

Many of the qualities of a primary care medical home stemmed from recommendations of the Institute of Medicine for reforming health care. Earlier this year, the Oregon Health Authority also designated our health centers as a model for health reform in the state.