ACMC clinics recognized for strides in patient disability access
WILLMAR — In the waiting rooms at Affiliated Community Medical Centers, patients have their choice of chairs to sit in. Some chairs have arms, others don’t. Some chairs are elevated, making it easier to stand up.
Need to have your blood pressure taken? There’s a selection of cuffs in various sizes.
And at each of ACMC’s regional sites, at least one exam room has an exam table that can be lowered for patients with limited mobility.
The accommodations all belong to an ongoing effort by ACMC to be welcoming to patients of differing abilities — an effort recently recognized by Minnesota insurer UCare with its annual “Salute to Excellence!” awards.
It’s the first time UCare has singled out medical groups for demonstrating excellence in disability care. The award went to only two in the state: ACMC and Fairview Medical Group of Hugo, Fridley and Maple Grove.
Just as people with disabilities may face barriers in the workplace or in day-to-day living, they can face barriers that make it harder for them to obtain health care.
When that happens, it can lead to less than optimal health for this patient population, said Dr. Debra Peterson, ACMC’s medical director of quality and patient safety and a family physician at ACMC in Litchfield.
“If they perceive there’s a barrier to coming in, they just won’t come,” she said. “That’s important, especially if you have a patient with a chronic disease like diabetes or high blood pressure.”
Increasing access to patients of all abilities has been a work in progress at ACMC for several years.
“Some of these things we’ve been doing a long time,” said Caryn McGeary, care improvement coordinator for the 11-clinic ACMC regional system. “Over time we’ve implemented more. We want patients to have good access to care. Part of having good access to care is being able to provide for the needs of our patients when they come into the building.”
Accommodations range from check-in desks that are wheelchair-accessible to handrails that make it easier to navigate clinic hallways.
At Willmar and Marshall, ACMC’s two largest sites, patients give enthusiastic reviews for the assistants who are waiting at the front door to help them out of their vehicle, get them seated in a wheelchair and help them into the building, McGeary said. “We get a lot of compliments on our patient assistants.”
Blood pressure cuffs in different sizes, extra-large wheelchairs and wheelchair scales help ensure the clinics have the right equipment to meet special needs.
Exam tables that can be automatically lowered and raised are a benefit not only for patients but also for the doctor, Peterson said. “If you can’t get the patient on the table, you can’t do a good exam.”
ACMC’s efforts to improve disability care have extended to care coordination and staff training as well.
For instance, the staff undergoes training each year on direct patient care skills in areas such as diabetes or memory loss, McGeary said.
ACMC’s certification last year as a patient-centered medical home has provided a new and more comprehensive way of managing care for people with complex or multiple health needs, she said. “We try to enroll people needing these services in care coordination. We are hoping it will help.”
Better health and better outcomes for people with disabilities is the key goal. But improving their experience during a trip to the clinic also matters, said McGeary and Peterson.
“We really are working hard on the patient experience. That’s important to the patient — how they felt they received their care,” McGeary said.
When patients can see their physical needs are recognized and met, “it often impacts the doctor-patient relationship too. There’s more respect and trust,” Peterson said.
She called it “the right thing to do.”
Improvements in disability care will be ongoing at ACMC, McGeary said.
“As we build new buildings, we try to make accommodations. We continue to look at our processes and patient flow,” she said. “It’s evolving and it’s growing.”