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What do people hate most about a visit to the doctor's office? That's what Ben Hand, M.D., and Sarah Whiteford, M.D., lead physicians at Family Care Associates, part of the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, asked their patients before they designed their new facilities.

What they learned will probably not surprise you. 

"Patients want things to be efficient and they want us to respect their time," Hand said. "The most common complaint was that every time they go to the doctor, they expect to be there for two hours or so."

That's the way many practices work. There's a long wait before you're led to an exam room, where there's another long wait until the doctor arrives for the 15 allotted minutes. Then, if you need certain tests, you're sent down busy corridors, in your backless gown, to other rooms. And then you wait some more. When it's finally time to leave, you can get lost in a maze of hallways trying to find the exit.

But in October, when Family Care Associates opened their new facility in the hospital's Physicians Pavilion North, GBMC chose a new, more patient-friendly approach.

The groundbreaking U-shaped office contains both an "onstage" area for patients and behind it, an "offstage" area for staff. When you arrive at the Family Care Associates lounge, you're greeted by a concierge and taken immediately to one of the comfortably appointed exam rooms. There are no complicated corridors with busy workstations and staff rushing back and forth as they take care of business — that all happens offstage. 

The amount of time scheduled for a doctor visit is 30 minutes, double the usual 15. Check-in is done in the exam room, vital signs are taken, and then the physician comes in to see you. Many diagnostic tests can be done immediately in the same room, and blood can be drawn in the phlebotomy suite.

"Patients often can accomplish much more in one visit to our office than they used to be able to," Whiteford said. "Taking care of the whole person is an important concept in primary care and we are much better equipped to do this as a Certified Patient-Centered Medical Home."

She's referring to certification by the National Committee for Quality Assurance as a Level 3 Physician Practice Connections-Patient-Centered Medical Home, the highest recognition the committee bestows. 

As with all of GBMC's primary care practices, Family Care Associates has an electronic medical record system with details about every patient's history, treatment and medications, which can be shared with other physicians and specialists. There's a care coordinator on staff who helps patients follow through with their treatment. If, for example, a patient with diabetes is having difficulty keeping his condition under control, the information will show up in the system, and the coordinator can reach out to assist the patient with getting back on track.

This brand of patient-centered care works on an extremely efficient schedule. But rather than being rigid, it allows more flexibility than a traditional doctor visit. With multiple care providers on staff, you can see someone at the practice — or at one of the other practices within the system — in a reasonable amount of time. There are extended hours on weekdays, and the office is open on weekends, primarily for urgent care.

Family Care Associates' patient-centered focus and newly designed facility represent a new mindset in delivering medical care — using the newest innovations to provide patients with the best possible care in a convenient, friendly atmosphere.


—Maxine Nunes, Brand Publishing Writer