Under the new health reform law, Congress has allocated $11 billion over five years—a doubling of current funding—to community health centers, which provide health care to millions of Americans regardless of their ability to pay. Such funding will be needed now more than ever as the demand for care increases as more people gain insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act.
A new Commonwealth Fund report based on a national survey of community health centers examines the capacity of health centers and highlights areas of improvement. Notably, the authors found that health centers that are closely affiliated with hospitals have fewer difficulties getting their patients appointments for specialty procedures like X-rays, diagnostic tests, and visits with specialist physicians.
The survey also assessed the capacity of community health centers to serve as "patient-centered medical homes" that provide around-the-clock care, manage chronic conditions, and promote coordination among care teams. The authors found that few centers had capacity in all five of the National Committee for Quality Assurance's patient-centered medical home domains, such as "patient tracking and registry functions" and "enhanced access and communication."
Paul Kaye, M.D., chief medical officer of Hudson River HealthCare, a network of 16 community health centers serving 42,000 patients in New York's Hudson Valley, says Hudson has taken steps toward creating medical homes for its patients. "In the last decade we have added lots of sites…and we've made sure evening hours were available at least once a week, and all of our sites have a physician available 24/7." Hudson has also implemented electronic medical records to improve clinical decision-making and better manage the patient population, Dr. Kaye said.
"Community health centers are a vital component of our health care system and this survey gives us a comprehensive picture of their current capacity to provide patient-centered, high-quality care," said Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis.
Also listen to a new podcast, How Will Community Health Centers Fare Under Health Reform?