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NACHC, Citing Cost Benefits, Urges Alliances with Hospitals

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, March 23, 2011

"I think there's a lot to be said in creating local partnerships to make sure that patients have the full gamut of care," she explained. "There's a time and place for all sorts of services, and a patient needs adequate access to primary care as well as specialty care services, inpatient care services, and so on."

Proser says community health centers are "on the ground" in ways that other healthcare providers sometimes aren't, providing care that's tailored to a population and its specific needs. And increasingly, this leads to partnerships between local hospitals and community health centers to create a system of care for that community.

"I think hospitals can look at this and see that health centers are very effective and very high-quality primary care providers," Proser said. For example, according to the policy brief, community health center patients received more pap smears and mental health services and seniors received more vaccinations than patients of other providers.

Moreover, data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality shows that health centers' cost per patient is dramatically lower than other healthcare settings. According to the policy brief, these cost savings and health improvements come not only from community health centers' ability to coordinate and provide care, but also to empower and educate patients about how and when to seek medical care in the first place.

"Hopefully this will help hospitals see that there are community health centers in their communities that perhaps they should be partnering with if they haven't already done so," Proser says.

If there were ever a time for hospitals to partner with their local community health centers, it's now. According to the NACHC brief, health centers currently operate in more than 8,000 locations and serve 23 million patients, providing one-quarter of all primary care visits for the country's low-income population. And with continued government investment, they're on track to double the number of patients and triple the savings through 2015, according to the brief.

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