learn more about or even how to manage their own conditions. Improving access also requires delivering care in a culturally relevant and appropriate manner so that patients can contribute positively to their own care.

Fewer studies have examined the economic value of patient-centered care. One such study found that offering a nurse advice phone number and a pediatric after-hours clinic resulted in a 17 percent decrease in emergency department visits (Wilson, 2005). Yet there is no reason to believe that enhancing patient-centered care will or even should always lead to lower costs. For example, truly patient-centered approaches to care may require new programs or additional services that go beyond current standards of practice.

Nurses and Patient-Centered Care

Nurses have long emphasized patient-centered care. The case study in Box 2-2 provides but one example—the patient-centered approach of midwifery care at the Family Health and Birth Center (FHBC) in Washington, DC. Through the FHBC, mothers-to-be who often have little control over their own lives develop a sense of control over one very important part of their lives. From such modest beginnings, many more hopeful futures have been launched.

The Need for Stronger Primary Care Services

Consensus is also strong on the need to make primary (rather than specialty) care a greater part of the health care system. Despite steps taken by the ACA to support the provision of primary care, however, the shortage of primary care providers is projected to worsen in the United States in the coming years (Bodenheimer and Pham, 2010; Doherty, 2010).

Primary care has been described in many ways. The IOM has defined it as “the provision of integrated, accessible health care services by clinicians who are accountable for addressing a large majority of personal health care needs, developing a sustained partnership with patients, and practicing in the context of family and community” (IOM, 1996). Starfield and colleagues identify the functions of primary care as “first-contact access for each new need; long-term person- (not disease) focused care; comprehensive care for most health needs; and coordinated care when it must be sought elsewhere” (Starfield et al., 2005). Similarly, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has cited the following hallmarks of primary care: preventive care, care coordination for chronic illnesses, and continuity of care (Steinwald, 2008). Thus primary care is closely tied to two of the principles for change discussed below—the need to deliver more care in the community and the need for seamless, coordinated care.

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