Patients are the key to success for the patient-centered medical home model. That may seem like a no-brainer after all, the word patient is part of the term itself. Yet the importance of patients, and more specifically patient engagement, was reiterated over and over at the 2014 Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative Western Regional Conference in Denver earlier this month.

There has been some skepticism about the effectiveness of the PCMH model, including highly publicized studies that showed no cost savings. But Marci Nielsen, CEO of the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative, challenged the audience of physicians at the conference to change these discussions about the PCMH model to focus less on cost and more on the patient.

Physician practices need to get patients engaged in the process so that patients are motivated to reach the same goals as providers, who are realizing the necessity of coordination among physicians, specialists, pharmacists, and behavioral health providers, just to name a few. But patients are a key part of the equation as well, and they are often overlooked as practices begin the process of transforming into a PCMH.

So what does this patient engagement look like. The conference speakers had various suggestions to achieve the goal of meeting patients where they are, but all the experts agreed that patients must be reached beyond the primary-care physicians offices. Thinking outside the box and outside the walls of the practice itself is a necessary step if physicians want to effectively engage patients and achieve the triple aim of better quality, lower costs, and better health

The speakers said that provider groups need to be partnering with schools, employers, community centers, and faith-based organizations as a way to engage with patients. Although this is admittedly a significant shift from how physician groups have historically operated, these are the new partners in the PCMH neighborhood.

So where to begin Giving patients access to electronic health records, practice portals, and mobile apps, for example, helps engage patients in their own health and promotes the physician/patient communication that is needed for a successful PCMH. Simply asking patients for their opinions and what changes they want to see in their doctors practices is another key step to patient engagement.

Bruce Bagley, CEO of TransforMED, used a quote from the National Partnership for Women and Families Christine Bechtel, If we build it with them they will already be there to illustrate the importance of including patients from the beginning of the process. The key to success for implementing an effective PCMH begins with patients. Only then can practices be truly patient-centered.

Follow AnnJeanette Colwell on Twitter @AJColwellLHLI

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