Michelle Obama Medical Home Effort Slowly Makes Progress
NATIONAL- US First Lady Michelle Obama speaks during The White House Dance Series: A Tribute to Judith Jamison ceremony in the East Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on September 7, 2010.
Before it was even cool to do so, Michelle Obama was talking about the need for everybody in the U.S. to have a “medical home.”
Seven years later, a unique initiative once led by the First Lady on Chicago’s South Side is slowly working to get thousands of patients to form a relationship with a primary care doctor. The idea behind a medical home is for patients to get medical care upfront in the doctor’s office where costs are lower than a hospital, particularly an emergency room.
Known as the Urban Health Initiative, it was launched in 2005 by Michelle Obama and others when she was a vice president at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Today the initiative is headed by a group that includes Dr. Eric Whitaker, a long-time University of Chicago physician who is one of Michelle and Barack Obama’s closest friends.
New data made available from the program shows its network of clinics and primary care providers are doing a better job of building a relationship with poor people on state Medicaid insurance and uninsured patients.
But it’s a process that takes time and will take some more time before it is perfected.
The Urban Health Initiative is trying to discourage use of the hospital emergency room for primary care needs, particularly among the uninsured and others with low incomes who tend to have trouble accessing health care in general.
One key effort involves patient advocates making appointments for people who come to the emergency room, scheduling them near their homes if possible at more than two dozen clinics and health centers throughout the South Side.
It’s working. In 2011, for example, 40 percent of patients, or 1,075 out of 2,687 patients who had appointments scheduled for them actually kept their appointments. The percentage has grown gradually since the first year, 2005, when about one-third, or 34 percent of appointments were kept.
The program is significant partly because of its influential ties to the White House, but it also offers a snapshot into a national problem. All hospitals like the University of Chicago need to educate patients on the appropriate use for the emergency room whether they are located in the inner-city or elsewhere if quality is to improve and dollars are to be saved.
“The power of linking patients to medical homes is not just theory,” said Whitaker, who is executive vice president of strategic affiliations and associate dean of community-based research at University of Chicago. “Study after study substantiates this as a critical element of any high-quality, lower-cost approach to health care delivery.”