Renovating primary care at the UNC Family Medicine Center

With its grand re-opening, the UNC Family Medicine Center celebrates an extensive facility renovation and a redesigned care model. The updated facility will allow Family Medicine to keep up with growing demand, provide a wider variety of services, and offer extended hours.

Renovating primary care at the UNC Family Medicine Center click to enlarge (L to R): Drs. Sam Weir, Cristy Page, and Warren Newton
Renovating primary care at the UNC Family Medicine Center click to enlarge Entering the renovated UNC Family Medicine Center

When patients arrive at the newly renovated UNC Family Medicine Center (FMC), appointments won’t follow the traditional path.  Instead of checking in with a receptionist and being shepherded to a waiting area, patients will immediately be taken to an exam room and the check-in process, exam, blood work and billing will be brought to them.

This new model of primary care is being rolled out in a freshly renovated FMC that has more rooms, more services and has been reengineered with the patient’s experience specifically in mind.

“We are designing a process that allows us to do everything right in the exam room,” explains Cristy Page, MD, MPH, interim chair of UNC Family Medicine. “So rather than checking in, paying and then waiting, we cut out the wasted time.  Patients will be escorted directly to their exam room where they will be checked in privately and then their visit will begin right there.”

The remodel also includes more rooms, expanded service capabilities, and service designed to enhance the patient experience.

At the June 2nd ribbon-cutting ceremony, Sam Weir, MD, associate professor of family medicine and the medical leader of the redesign project, remarked that the redesign was developed with an eye toward the taking the next step in primary care.

“We are celebrating a newly designed space for our vision of patient-centered medical care that incorporates innovative models of where we see care going in the future,” said Weir.

The new patient flow is the centerpiece of this transformation.

“We developed a vision of care in which we would escort and welcome patients into an appropriate treatment area, where they would be afforded privacy for the duration of their visit [in a way that] supports those relationships that are at the heart of medical care,” Weir continued.

Features of the renovation include 15 new exam rooms, space for group visits and the addition of a procedural suite that will make possible the continued expansion of sports medicine at the facility as well as other procedures. The FMC now also offers same-day services and extended practice hours.

“A patient-centered medical home can’t just be an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. proposition, so we’ve tried to design our spaces to support those extra hours and those extra types of care,” said Weir.

With more services available onsite, the FMC is equipped to offer the comprehensive approach to medicine required by a patient-centered medical home model of care. Page offers an example of this increased comprehensiveness.

“We know that a patient’s mental health and health behaviors are inseparably tied to physical well-being and long-term health. We are now offering onsite psychological services, including counseling for nicotine dependence, addiction, and weight management. These are offered in addition to onsite x-ray, sports medicine, prenatal and pediatric care, physical therapy, nutrition, acupuncture, and other services.”

Providing high quality primary care to patients in Chapel Hill and the surrounding area has been central to FMC’s mission since it first opened its doors in 1991. In that time, the clinic has made a significant impact on the community, explained Warren Newton, MD, a former chair of Family Medicine at UNC who now serves as a senior medical advisor for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

“We’ve been in this location for more than 25 years and in that time we’ve had approximately 1.4 million patient visits.” Newton added that though they had been working on redesigning the practice since the early 2000s, they had reached the limits of what they could achieve operationally and that adding space and capacity to the building had become necessary “to better serve our patients and the community.” 

With the added clinical space and operational efficiency, the Center hopes to increase its number of annual visits from 55,000 to 75,000 over the next five years.

The increased capacity is also good news for medical training in Chapel Hill. The UNC School of Medicine’s Family Medicine program is consistently ranked as one of the best in the country – most recently, U.S. News and World Report ranked the program #2 nationally – and the expanded facility offers not only greater access to care for patients but more educational opportunities for students.

“We’re not just training physicians, we are training care managers, social workers, pharmacists, medical assistants, psychologists, public health officials and more. It’s very much a team-based approach, both in care and in education,” said Page.

For Page and Weir, the original spark of inspiration for the new care model at FMC came more than a decade ago as the two were visiting other practices to find new ways of approaching patient-centered care.

“We found a place in Hendersonville, NC, where we saw the vision of what happens if you blow up the waiting room, blow up the front desk and create a new model where you can really start to redesign care around patients,” she recalled.

Patients have been involved in development of the redesign from the beginning. In 2012, FMC started a patient advisory council, one of the first of its kind, to help get patients involved in the decisions that would affect their care and experience at the clinic.

“Our patients have been deeply embedded in the development and the design at each stage of the way,” said Page. “And this has allowed us to tailor what we’re doing around our patients.”

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, patients, physicians, and leaders from around the health care system were invited to tour the new facility and get firsthand experience of the transformation the FMC has undergone.

Festivities continued throughout the following day as patients were invited to participate in an open house that included such attractions as massage chairs and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

For Page, the renovation – and the new care model it has made possible – are only the beginning for the transformation of primary care at the FMC.

“We are really excited about the future of Family Medicine. We have great people and with the completion of this project we now have a great facility with state-of-the-art equipment and services,” says Page. “We will continue to bring the community the highest quality health care available.”

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