The Challenging and Rewarding Work of Community Health Care Providers

by Jairo Mejia, M.D., ACCESS Chief Medical Officer

March 28, 2019

In my role as ACCESS’ Chief Medical Officer, I am proud to lead a wonderful group of talented and passionate providers for one of the nation’s largest networks of federally qualified health centers. At ACCESS, we work in some of Chicago’s most impoverished communities day in and day out, and we don’t measure our impact by simply how many patients we see each year. No, at the end of the day, it’s all about our patients and making a positive impact on their lives. The question we repeatedly ask ourselves: How have we supported their goals to live healthy, productive lives?

As I reflect on National Doctor’s Day, which we celebrate as ACCESS Providers Week, I can’t help but reflect on how it takes a particular breed of a provider to serve our patient population. In fact, given the hardships that we encounter on a daily basis, you must have a special gene embedded into your DNA. When you practice primary care in a community-based setting, you are expected to combine your clinical knowledge and expertise with fundamental values like compassion, empathy, and generosity. Unlike specialty care, primary care is a holistic approach: we study the whole person. It can be challenging. It can be frustrating. It can be an exhausting journey filled with many highs and lows. However, at the end of the day, it is a truly rewarding field.  

Our national health care system is shifting in meaningful ways to a value-based care model that is focused on quality outcomes and not simply the number of visits. This new paradigm implies the need for our providers to go from simple transactional care of a medical condition to a more sophisticated level of care that involves evaluating environmental, social, and cultural determinants that are affecting that person’s health.  As a provider working in underserved, under-resourced communities, this shift is challenging my colleagues and I more than ever to do our best work. For example, our care model today drives us to really impact those patients that are most at risk. Whether it’s improving the A1c levels of our diabetic patients or making sure that our asthma patients don’t have unnecessary visits to the local ER, we are on the frontlines of impacting our patients’ short-and long-term outcomes.

From an operations standpoint, we know that when a health care system is properly supported to deliver outstanding, comprehensive primary care, the total cost of health care decreases, re-admissions to hospitals and emergency room visits decline, and chronic conditions are better managed and lead to fewer complications. Ongoing patient engagement and proper monitoring also support early diagnoses, which promote better outcomes with lower morbidity and mortality rates.
For decades, access to high quality health care has been a privilege reserved for individuals with the means to afford it. Today, thanks to the comprehensive work and evolutions within community-based health care, the same expectations apply to all populations regardless of their means or insurance status. That is a gift not just to our patients but, to our providers. It allows them the freedom to do their best work and make the most impact on our patients and communities. That’s the rewarding work of ACCESS.

If you are interested in learning more about ACCESS and how we are evolving our approach to care, please click here to see our most recent annual report.