Three years ago, the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch began a journey toward a new model of primary health care delivery known as the Patient-Centered Medical Home. In early December, after passing a rigorous battery of performance reviews, UTMB Family Medicine received the highest level of certification for its new patient-centered efforts from the National Committee for Quality Assurance.

All three UTMB Family Medicine clinics — Island East Family Medicine, Island West Family Medicine and Dickinson Family Medicine — are now official NCQA Level-Three Certified Patient-Centered Family Medical Homes.

“For patients, what this means is a whole new level of personalized preventive primary care, with every member of the health care team from the receptionist to the medical assistant to the nurses and doctors working together in a new, coordinated way,” said Ann O’Connell, UTMB vice president for ambulatory operations.

Designed to strengthen bonds between patients and health care providers and increase effective preventive care, the patient-centered model is being adopted by progressive health care institutions nationwide as they strive to meet new standards.

Level three certification standards include short waiting-room times; full, unhurried attention from health professionals; specific protocols for patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease; and an electronic medical record system accessible to everyone on the medical team as well as the patient and/or his or her family.

The medical home takes proactive measures to make sure patients with chronic conditions get to the diagnostic and specialist appointments they need. Not only does the medical home set up all these appointments for the patient, it makes sure the patient receives reminder phone calls about the appointments and it follows up with the patient if he or she misses an appointment.

“This is a tremendous accomplishment and I am proud of everyone who has been a part of this effort,” said Dr. Barbara Thompson, chairwoman of the Department of Family Medicine. “We have come a long way thanks to our wonderful hospital and health system partners.”

A number of UTMB’s other primary care clinics are also moving toward Patient-Centered Medical Home Certification. The Department of Internal Medicine and the Department of Pediatrics are both currently in the process of qualifying for certification.

According to research conducted by the NCQA, patients who receive their primary care from Patient-Centered Medical Homes have increased access to care and higher quality of care at lower cost, with one state reporting $2 to $4 in savings for every $1 spent. Research also shows that Patient-Centered Medical Homes reduce disparities in care for people with lower incomes.