DORCHESTER, Mass. – As state and local leaders and community health advocates gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the nation’s first health center, a majority polled agreed on a looming challenge—primary care providers coming out of medical school today are not adequately trained for the new model of delivering care.
Healthcare leaders, policymakers and community health center staff and advocates were surveyed as part of the MA League of Community Health Center’s daylong symposium to celebrate the anniversary and look to the future. Massachusetts’ 49 community health centers make up the Commonwealth’s largest primary care network and care for more than one in seven state residents, or 935,000 patients annually.
Since Massachusetts’ 2006 health care reform, the state's health centers have been actively engaged in transforming their care approach to the more team-based, patient-centric model that is now a cornerstone of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Health systems across the U.S. are watching Massachusetts health centers for what to expect in this effort.
Massachusetts health centers have found early success with the transformation to this new approach, which moves from a single provider care model to integrated clinical teams focused on patient care coordination. However, along with that transformation has come a slow and difficult cultural shift for care providers, particularly physicians. Health centers have devoted significant resources to develop effective training models to bridge this gap, including training care teams to use real-time patient data in performance improvement programs; electronic referral systems to strengthen the efficiency and effectiveness of care coordination; and role playing and other specialized patient engagement approaches that motivate patients with complex and chronic illnesses to take stronger ownership of their treatment goals.
“We’re making great progress, but it's clear that medical schools have not adjusted their training approach to address issues of team coordination, process improvement, patient engagement and better use of technology – all of which are basic requirements in practicing primary care in the post-ACA era,” says Antonia McGuire, Board Chair of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers and President and CEO of the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center in Worcester. "Medical schools should draw upon the community-based expertise of health centers in developing their curricula and training programs in primary care."
Health centers have a long history of filling critical gaps in our healthcare system, from providing some of the nation’s first HIV services, to pioneering models of care for patients suffering with chronic illness, to expanding dental coverage for millions of underserved residents.
“Community health center residency programs are an untapped resource for our nation’s medical schools, which are responsible for adequately preparing our future primary care providers for the modern healthcare system,” said James W. Hunt, Jr. President and CEO, Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers.
In 1965, physician activists H. Jack Geiger and Count D. Gibson Jr. developed a new model to provide accessible, affordable and high-quality health care and founded the nation’s first community health center in Dorchester’s Columbia Point. Community health centers expanded nationwide after Senator Edward M. Kennedy visited Columbia Point Health Center in 1966. Impressed with the community-focused model of care, Kennedy introduced an amendment to the Economic Opportunity Act, directing $38 million in funding for the development of additional health centers across the country. A ground-breaking predecessor to the patient-centered medical home (PCMH) model at the heart of modern healthcare reform, the founding of Columbia Point Health Center launched a national movement committed to providing locally accessible, affordable and high quality health care to millions of medically underserved individuals and families.
About the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers
Established in 1972, the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers ("the League") is the statewide association representing and serving the needs of the state's 49 community health centers through grassroots advocacy; technical assistance with state and federal health regulatory and policy issues; promotion and management of clinical quality initiatives; training and education for administrators, clinicians and board members; help with health center technology development; and work with local health advocacy organizations seeking to open health centers in their communities. The League also serves as an information source on community-based health care to policymakers, opinion leaders and the media.