TUHS joins national primary care program

The partnership program will provide stable primary care to North Philadelphia residents.

Temple University Health System joined the Comprehensive Primary Care Plus program, a national primary care initiative aiming to improve the care of patients, which top officials at TUHS said will help improve the health of those in primary care.

CPC+ is a five-year model designed by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in order to enhance a patient’s primary care by providing greater access to physicians and preventative services. There are nearly 2,900 primary care participants in CPC+, and the first round of participants in the state will be from the greater Philadelphia region.

Primary care is the most basic version of health care, with a single physician working with a patient from first contact through their continued care with any undiagnosed symptom or health concern, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Steve Carson, vice president of clinical integration at TUHS, said although the program is not intended to add to the patient population, “if you can deliver care in a higher quality, lower cost environment [of primary care], it would allow repurposing of dollars at the federal and state level toward improving that access.”

Patients already receiving primary care are the target group who will see the improvement in care management, Carson said.

With the additional resources from CMS, physicians will be able to invest in improvements to their practices. This will allow them to pay more attention to preventative care, while also paying attention to a patient’s lifestyle choices, such as better attention to weight, exercise and diet.

The program will also help “break down barriers” for patients, said Dr. Marc Hurowitz, the CEO of Temple Physicians Inc., TUHS’s network of community-based physicians.

TUHS will improve the logistics of health care, like getting patients to their appointments.

Physicians must help their patients pass clinical barriers, like knowledge of medications, diets and symptoms, said Bethann Joniec, a care transition navigator for TUHS. There are several social barriers that must be dealt with as well, she said, like transportation and finances.

Joniec added she sees many patients having issues with care management because of these barriers.

“[Patients] don’t know what follow-ups are needed or if their medications are at the pharmacy,” Joniec said. “People can’t afford food. A lot of people cannot manage their lives and need oversight. If we can provide that oversight, we can improve their outcomes.”

As TUHS reaches the goals set by CMS, the organization will provide TUHS with monetary incentives in order to “make investments that will improve quality of care and reduce the number of unnecessary services their patients receive,” according to the CMS website.

CMS has selected various measurements for TUHS to monitor through the first year of the program. These measures were identified as true measures of TUHS’ quality of care, Carson said.

The various measurements include monitoring blood pressure on patients with hypertension, reducing or eliminating medication being prescribed to patients and providing cancer screenings to identify diseases early.

“[CMS Initiatives] are really modeled to be tested to see if you, as a physician practice or a health care organization, can really improve and influence the outcomes of care and also influence the cost of care,” Carson said.

The program officially began on Jan. 1, but is being gradually implemented with different steps of the program, Carson said.

With weekly meetings with CMS, TUHS is in the process of informing patients of the initiative, while also educating physicians and staff of the initiative as well.

Over the course of the year, CMS will monitor the practices and potentially select this practice for a randomized visit, Carson said.

“[This program] is really focused on how do we engage the patient in their care, their satisfaction with the care overall, and are we meeting our quality objectives?” he said. “These pilot programs are helping us identify more effective ways to spend that cost, reduce cost, but at the same time making sure that we are delivering care in a quality way.”

Kelly Brennan can be reached at kelly.brennan@temple.edu or on Twitter @_kellybrennan.

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