14 Aug Doctors unaware of where their patients live impacts care
Family physicians have little idea where their patients actually live, according to a new study, and that’s a major shortcoming given recent evidence showing the health impact of a person’s environment.
The study, published online Monday in the Annals of Family Medicine, is being touted by the University of Houston College of Medicine, whose planned medical school will emphasize more community-oriented delivery of health care. One of its doctors was an investigator on the study.
“The idea of thinking about where patients live is radical because we’re not trained to ask for that information,” Dr. Winston Liaw, chair of the department of health systems and population health at UH’s College of Medicine, said in a statement.
“We need to get providers to integrate geography into their practice data and get them thinking about the health needs of specific communities,” Liaw said.
The study found that family physicians could not accurately estimate where their patients live, overestimating the geographic footprint of their practice by an average of 166 miles, or 112 percent. That is, they perceived patients were more widely distributed in the region than the actuality.
The study noted that to address the gap, many practices are moving services out of the clinic and directly into the community, making it vital to “understand a community’s needs, identify those in need not accessing care, engage potential community partners for collaborative care and consider novel community-based interventions.”
Liaw stressed that health challenges faced by specific communities should be integrated into electronic health records and used to develop strategic interventions. He said doctors are “just guessing” if they try to allocate resources without such data.
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The study was conducted at six northern Virginia family medicine practices. Liaw, a professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston before he was hired in August by UH, participated in the research while he was medical director at the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care in Washington, D.C. Other members of the research team were based in Virginia, New York and Kansas.
UH’s planned medical school, to be built on campus and focus on underserved areas such the Third Ward, is currently under review by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. UH officials are hoping accreditation is granted in time for the school to begin admitting students in Fall 2022.
Todd Ackerman covers medicine for the Houston Chronicle. He can be reached at [email protected] or twitter.com/ChronMed.