Report: Hospital-Affiliated Community Health Centers Report Fewer Problems Obtaining Specialty Care for Patients

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<p>Community 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, according to a new Commonwealth Fund survey of community health centers released today. Centers without hospital affiliations reported they had more difficulty getting off-site specialty appointments regardless of a patient’s insurance status, an indication that incentives are needed to facilitate connections between health centers and specialty care providers.</p>
<p>These and other survey findings are discussed in the report <a href="/publications/fund-reports/2010/may/enhancing-capacity-community-health-centers-achieve-high">Enhancing the Capacity of Community Health Centers to Achieve High Performance</a>, which focuses on the capacity of federally qualified health centers nationwide to provide high-quality care and function as patient-centered medical homes. A podcast, <a href="/Multimedia-Center/Podcasts.aspx">How Will Community Health Centers Fare Under Health Reform?</a>, is also available, featuring interviews with report authors Michelle M. Doty, Ph.D., and Melinda K. Abrams, M.S., and with Paul Kaye, M.D., chief medical officer of Hudson River HealthCare, which operates a number of health centers in southeastern New York State.</p>
<p>A critical component of the health care safety net, community health centers serve an estimated 16 million patients, predominantly those who are low-income, uninsured, or enrolled in Medicare or Medicaid. Federal funding for health centers will be doubled over the next five years, helping to meet the higher demand for services expected from the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.</p>
<p>Many community health centers already provide high-quality, well-coordinated care. But the report makes clear that several areas of need must be addressed, especially given the expanding role health centers will likely play in delivering care. These needs include: new payment incentives to encourage delivery of high-quality care; policies and incentives to encourage centers to take the necessary steps to function as patient-centered medical homes; and health information technology and other infrastructure support to allow health centers to meet patients’ needs better.</p>
<p>"Community health centers are a vital component of our health care system," said Commonwealth Fund president Karen Davis. "Moving forward, we should continue to invest in strategies—payment reform, health IT, and partnerships—that will strengthen community health centers' ability to provide comprehensive care to patients and reduce barriers to obtaining needed specialty care."<br /></p>