Five University of Texas Medical Branch primary care clinics were recently recognized for having the highest level of patient-centered care. The National Committee for Quality Assurance gave them Level Three Patient-Centered Medical Home certification — its highest level of achievement.

The UTMB Community-Based Clinics provide the most common outpatient services, including health and wellness visits, with the goal of making access to care easier for community residents. The recognized clinics are:

Achieving Level Three certification means the clinics met high standards: short waiting-room times and same-day appointments; 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 family.

“We hold the patient’s hand every step of the way,” said Dr. Cynthia Judice, chief medical officer for UTMB’s Primary Care Services and Community-Based Clinics. “If we refer you to a cardiologist, we assist with finding one near where you live and help make the appointment for you. Afterwards, we get information back from the cardiologist and work with them to better coordinate your care. If you need community services like transportation, we help with that, too.” She added that one of the most important parts of patient-centered care is educating patients about their conditions and include them in the decision-making process when it comes to treatment plans.

A PCMH is a model of primary care that emphasizes the coordination of care and communication to ensure that patients receive the right treatment, at the right place, at the right time. According to research conducted by the NCQA, patients who receive their primary care from PCMHs 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 PCMHs reduce disparities in care for people with lower incomes.

“This recognition is a big deal. It assures the 115,000 patients we see every year that we have followed stringent recommendations and passed rigorous performance reviews,” said Judice. “Every member of these clinics – from the physicians to the front desk – has been working toward this goal for the past several years. The excitement about getting this certification is providing even more enthusiasm in our clinics to continue raising the bar and ensuring we provide the best personalized preventive primary care available.”

Mary Beth Ray, UTMB’s PCMH project development and support manager, said they have effectively reversed primary care from doctor-centered to patient-centered. “In the past, you would see your doctor when he or she was available. Now, you are seen when you want to be seen and we help take care of your needs at the appropriate time, which improves health outcomes and keeps patients out of the hospital,” she said.

Patient- and family-centered care isn’t only being applied in UTMB’s Community-Based Clinics. In December 2013, all three UTMB Family Medicine Clinics also received the highest level of certification for its new patient-centered efforts.