I don’t get to say this often, but something exciting is happening in Connecticut that could dramatically improve the delivery of health care.

Connecticut has applied to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for a project that could eventually bring patient-centered medical homes (PCMHs) to more than a million state residents. PCMHs are medical practices that provide coordinated care delivered by a team of professionals, specifically identified to meet the needs of each patient and support them in improving their own health.

In other states where PCMHs are being utilized, the practice has improved access to care, reduced skyrocketing health care costs, prevented illness and reduced medical errors. Among the benefits, PCMH care is coordinated, so patients endure fewer duplicate tests and treatments. PCMHs must have longer hours of business, so emergency room visits are down.  PCMHs also have complete electronic health records, so consumers don’t have to repeat their history, remember exactly what dose of medications they are on or which they are allergic to.

Because PCMHs are paid to coordinate care, they can use phone calls and email to communicate with busy patients instead of needing to haul us into the office to get paid. PCMHs remind patients when it is time to come back for preventive care and follow ups. In effect, PCMHs are built around patients, giving consumers the information and the services they need to stay healthy, which is the most effective way to hold down costs and improve health.

The Office of State Comptroller is the lead on the project, which brings together DSS, the Governor’s Office, and the SustiNet PCMH Advisory Committee. The application has attracted support from dozens of consumer and provider groups. Anyone who has worked in health care in our state knows how remarkable this level of cooperation is.

The project will start with ProHealth Physicians, a large primary care group with 172 physicians at 74 sites across Connecticut. ProHealth is in the process of transforming their practices to the PCMH model and expect to receive national accreditation for all their sites by the middle of next year. In addition to the standard PMCH requirements, the project will also focus on linking patients leaving the hospital with primary health care, getting preventive care to nursing home residents, and coordinating care for the growing number of patients with more than one chronic illness.

Every one of ProHealth’s 235,000 patients, eight percent of Connecticut’s population, will have access to this innovative program. Insurers are going to pay practices for the extra work, but expect to save far more in total health care costs by keeping people well.

Connecticut has also committed to participate in the New England PCMH collaborative, now in its initial startup.  We will share data, evaluation tools, technical assistance, learning opportunities and best practices with eight other states and their PCMH programs. The project is also being discussed as a foundation for payment reforms in our state – changing the focus of health care from paying for volume to paying for quality.

Expectations are high, but it is about time we have something to be excited about in Connecticut’s health care environment.

Ellen Andrews is Executive Director of the CT Health Policy Project, a non-profit research and advocacy organization working to expand coverage to affordable, quality health care for all Connecticut residents. The Project provides policymakers with information about options for coverage and provides assistance to consumers struggling to access health care in Connecticut.