Patient-centered medical home is becoming primary care norm

Posted9/12/2015 7:00 AM

Q: I've been going to a family medicine practice for years. My doctor just told me the practice is going to become a "patient-centered medical home." What does that mean? How is this going to affect my health care?

A: Many family medicine practices across the country are switching to a team-based model of care called a patient-centered medical home (PCMH). The PCMH turns a doctor's practice into a physician-led team. This team will develop a long-term treatment plan for you that focuses on prevention.


Basically, the PCMH was born out of the realization that 21st-century medical care has become more complicated. There are more tests, more treatments, more types of specialists -- and more to coordinate. By and large, this extra technology improves your health, if it is coordinated. The team makes sure that all pertinent information about your health is available to any health professional caring for you. It also makes sure you understand what the plan is for your care, and why.

To help you meet your goals, the team will educate you and coordinate care with other specialists if necessary. The team must be available to you, at least by telephone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year.

PCMHs took off in the late 2000s among family practice and internal medicine doctors. An important stimulus was Congress' passage of the Affordable Care Act. Since then, thousands of doctors' offices have made the switch.

If you're taking a preventive approach to your care, you'll stay healthier, which can save money and improve your quality of life. And you'll receive better treatment as well, with team members following up to find out if you've stuck with your medication regimen, gotten a scheduled screening or kept an appointment with a specialist.

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As your doctor's office makes the switch, ask the following questions:

• Who are the members of my care team?

• What are their roles?

• How will this change my access to care?

• How often will I have appointments?

• When will my team develop a care plan for me?

• Will the PCMH staff provide educational resources to help me better manage my own health care?

• Does the PCMH use a patient portal?

A patient portal is a computer-based connection between you and the doctor's office. It enables you to look up your test results and medical records, ask for prescription refills, and send questions to the nurses and doctors.

Several national accreditation programs provide certifications and keep track of a PCMH's progress. These programs hold the PCMH to high standards.

Still, make sure to provide plenty of feedback during the transition. There may be some bumps in the road to this new system. Letting the practice know whether it's meeting your needs will benefit you in the long run.

• Dr. Anthony Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.

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