As a healthcare consultant, I live in a world of TLAs – three letter acronyms. Accountable Care Organizations are ACOs, and are kind of like PHOs (Physician Hospital Organizations), which sort of remind us of clinically integrated IPAs (Independent Practice Associations). Once we have made that shift from actual words to brief alphabetical snippets, the meaning of the original words seems to get confused or even lost entirely. This may be the case with one of our latest acronyms – PCMH.

Many would say that PCMH stands for Primary Care Medical Home but recently I have seen the definition shift. PCMH now can also mean the Patient Centered Medical Home – which, when you look at most published definitions, still looks more physician centered than patient centered. Much of our society is already light years ahead of medicine when it comes to being consumer centric. As I considered this, I wondered what a truly Patient Centered Medical Home might look like. Not one that just talks about the patient, but one that is all about the patient.  

Whose network is it anyway? Primary care medical homes are all about coordination of care by a single physician, one who can make sure all of my medical needs are met with high quality and efficiency. In a Patient Centered Medical Home, the physician is part of the patient’s network, not the other way around. Why would I want only one doctor to care for all of my needs? If I have diabetes, CHF and osteoporosis, I want to choose the best endocrinologist, dietician, cardiologist, rheumatologist, nurse practitioner, and maybe even an acupuncturist if I happen to believe it might help my pain. In a patient centered model, the physician is no longer the coordinator of care; the patient has assumed the majority of that role.

Care when I want it– In a primary care medical home, access is important. Things like weekend hours, evening hours, and even telemedicine are key components. In a patient centered medical home, the physician’s schedule is not the issue at all; the patient’s schedule is the key. Access to care would simply be on demand, 24/7. Sound extreme? Think ATMs and TiVo. When is the last time you heard a 25-year-old ask when the bank was open or when a TV show was on?

No secrets – Physician led medical homes focus on transparency. Sharing information with patients and patient education is an important element of their success. However, in the world of instant access to information, including medical information, a patient centered model would move fromtransparency about information to listening to information that I, as the patient, bring regarding me and my care. Current models of care are still designed for the medical information and treatment plans to flow from the physician to the patient, not the other way around. Patients may not have the level of education that we as physicians have, but they do have access to the same information and, at times, new and different information, that we may not always consider. The information playing field may never be leveled, but in the new healthcare world it is certainly tilting more toward the patient than ever before.

Making sure we understand the meaning of the new care models we are developing is critically important as reform marches on. Words are important, and how we interpret them is even more so. MD – Medical Doctor – still has great meaning, and I believe it always will in any new care model. But to many people, MD is also beginning to mean Modern Doctor – and that definition is still in the works.