What is a “medical home”? Do your children have one?

This post was authored by Sarah Keogh and posted to The Eye Opener on April 14th, 2011.

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What is a “medical home”? Do you feel like you or your children have a medical home? Is it one that feels comfortable and accessible and all of the things the term “home” implies?

A couple of years ago, I was involved in some policy work surrounding the idea of the medical home and how to better ensure that children in Baltimore City had a medical home. When I first became involved in this project, I thought I understood the concept of a medical home, but I could not really define it. Working with a group of professionals from medical, public health and policy backgrounds, we spent several months furthering our understanding of what is a “medical home” before we could determine how to measure if children had adequate medical homes.

Today, I am not going to delve into that kind of detail about this topic. However, I thought it might be interesting to think about the concept of a medical home and some of the benefits and potential challenges this poses for families.  In this post, I’ll provide some definitions of “medical home” and provide some information about how many children are receiving care in a medical home.  I’ll address this topic in a future post about alternative health care locations.

I think that the idea of a medical home speaks to an often forgotten concept in providing the best health care with the fewest mistakes – consistency of care from a committed health care provider. The National Center for Medical Home Implementation, which is “a cooperative agreement between the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)”, has a website full of information about the medical home. Their definition of medical home is:

A family-centered medical home is not a building, house, hospital, or home healthcare service, but rather an approach to providing comprehensive primary care.

I think that this is a great overview of the concept. The definition continues:

In a family-centered medical home the pediatric care team works in partnership with a child and a child’s family to assure that all of the medical and non-medical needs of the patient are met.

Through this partnership the pediatric care team can help the family/patient access, coordinate, and understand specialty care, educational services, out-of-home care, family support, and other public and private community services that are important for the overall health of the child and family.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) developed the medical home model for delivering primary care that is accessible, continuous, comprehensive, family-centered, coordinated, compassionate, and culturally effective to all children and youth, including those with special health care needs.

I think that we all hope that our health care is provided in a comprehensive way such as is described by this definition. However, too often, we all know that medical care is provided in a more complex web of services in which the patient or patient’s family is left to coordinate care. This reality is even more vivid for those families who are uninsured or under-insured and are not able to receive all of their care from a primary care provider who is able to best coordinate their care.

An article in Bloomberg Business Week reports that a new study found that “Children who have a “medical home” – that is, a pediatrician or nurse they see regularly who offers comprehensive care — are more likely to have their medical and dental needs met…” However, the article goes on to say that children “…who have a chronic condition or special need and require the most care” are the least likely to have a medical home. The article states that only 57% of children in this country “…received care in medical homes in 2007…”  The study also found that:

Younger children were more likely to have a medical home than older children.

There were racial and ethnic disparities as well: White children were the most likely to have a medical home, while Hispanic children were the least likely, followed closely by black children.

Mothers without a high school education were significantly less likely to report their children had a medical home, as were the poor, non-English speaking families and the uninsured.

About 61 percent of children whose parents said they were in excellent or very good health had a medical home, compared to 35 percent of kids in fair or poor health.

These children, who are most likely to need a medical home, are the least likely to have one. This is despite research, and common sense, showing that medical homes are able to provide better health care at lower cost. The Bloomberg article says that  “[c]hildren without a medical home were three to four times more likely to have an unmet medical or dental need, according to the study, published online March 14 in the journal Pediatrics.”  Additionally, “[c]hildren who received care in medical homes were also more likely to have annual preventive medical visits, the study found.”

As I was reading these statistics, I was imagining the children without a medical home as children who often used clinics or emergency rooms for their health care. However, the Bloomberg article says that the study found that

…nearly all children — 93 percent — had a usual source of care, and about the same number had a personal physician or nurse. About 82 percent of parents said they had few problems obtaining referrals, 69 percent said they received help with coordinating care when needed and 67 percent said they received family-centered care.

But only 57 percent of parents reported that the health care their children received met all of those criteria — the definition of a medical home.

It is the comprehensive care provided by all of the elements of the medical home that create the best results in terms of patient care and cost savings. It is this combination that is lacking in many providers of pediatric care.

Do the members of your family receive their care in a medical home? Could you answer yes to all of the questions above defining a medical home? Is this important to you? What would make it easier for you to receive this kind of care for yourself or your child?

 

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