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Helen Claire West, MD, is an associate professor in the division of general medicine and medical director of the UNC Medicine Clinic at Panther Creek, set to open in Winter 2020. Here, she explains how a new clinic care model has the potential to transform UNC’s primary care footprint in the community.

Where will the UNC Panther Creek Medical Practice be located and how will it be structured to serve the community?

The UNC Panther Creek Medical Office Building (MOB), in Northwestern Cary between Brier Creek and Apex, near Panther Creek High School, will unify many UNC Health Care Alliance entities to serve a growing community in North Carolina.

The department of medicine will open a new type of multidisciplinary clinic within the MOB. Initially, this clinic will be made up of faculty physicians from internal medicine, cardiology, nephrology, and pulmonology. In this collaborative care model, we are intentionally placing our primary care physicians next to our specialists, in a holistic way that will better serve patients in our communities.

What is unique about this model?

In the current care model, when patients see a primary care physician, they may be referred out to different providers for subspecialty needs. This referral usually takes place at a different location and puts the onus on busy providers to ensure they are optimally communicating about their patient’s care. At Panther Creek, a patient will be able to come in and access interdisciplinary subspecialty care in a single suite. As providers, we anticipate being able to have real-time discussions with our specialists, to provide patient-centric care in a more efficient, coordinated manner. We are hopeful this integrated approach will allow for optimal care of all patients, especially those who may be living with complex, chronic illness. This a very exciting care model designed to reduce waste and result in both high provider and patient satisfaction, as well as improved health outcomes.

How will the suite be designed for patient-centered care?

The clinical areas of the MOB are all designed to have an on stage/off stage or “pod” (point-of-dispensing care) arrangement. This arrangement puts the patient in the center of care. The patient is welcomed into the exam room, which becomes the focus of care activities during the visit. All care will revolve around the patient, rather than asking the patient to move about the building to receive care. Separate entry/exits allow for improved privacy for patients, as well as making it easier for physicians and staff to work together.

In addition to the physical layout of the practice, we are designing our processes to be patient-centric by following a medical home model. Our vision is to create an environment where patients feel they are known, and are encouraged to reach out to us for all aspects of their medical care.

What patient populations will be served at Panther Creek?

We are excited to welcome all adult patients to our practice and offer primary care with integrated access to world-class academic specialists. We are particularly appropriate for adults with complex chronic conditions including adolescents aging out of pediatrics, women in the peripartum period with complex medical issues, and older adults with living with multiple chronic health problems. We anticipate that most of our patients in clinic will be from the Cary area, although it may also appeal to patients east of this area who have been commuting to the hospital campus for care.

How is this model forward thinking in the practice of health care today?

In our changing health care environment, this new model of care has the potential to transform the way care is delivered, by meeting patients where they are, with care that they need. It will enable a wider range of support to be delivered locally, with a majority of internal medicine needs in one place, integrating specialists into primary care. We think this small model has the potential to strengthen our primary care footprint and the community’s relationship with specialists, and eventually be a model we can export to other practices. It is exciting to learn about many clinics and health care delivery systems that are working to evolve the care model. The best care model is one that best serves the population it cares for. We aim to create a type of “integrated care unit” based on a primary care model that is uniquely poised to care for patients with complicated chronic illness.

Who will serve in the specialty clinic?

Our primary care clinicians will be Dr. Karina Whelan, Dr. Hannah Coletti and myself. Dr. Whelan and Dr. Coletti are both Med/Peds trained clinicians and skilled in caring for adolescents and adults with multiple medical conditions. I am joining UNC after 9 years as a full-time primary care clinician in the Boston area, and have an interest in complex chronic care, the patient-clinician relationship, and care model re-design.

In addition, Dr. Monica Reynolds will join us from nephrology, serving women with chronic kidney disease, including in the peripartum period. We also anticipate having cardiologists in the clinic four days per week, with general cardiology as well as heart failure and electrophysiology specialists. From pulmonary diseases and critical care medicine, Dr. Barbara LeVarge, who specializes in pulmonary hypertension, and Dr. Kunal Patel, who specializes in interstitial lung disease and bronchiectasis, will provide care for patients who need general pulmonary care as well as care in these subspecialty areas.

Note: Dr. West and Dr. Whelan are currently accepting new patients who can be seen at the UNC Ambulatory Care Center Clinic on campus, until the Panther Creek Medical Office Building opens at 6715 McCrimmon Parkway in Cary.

Other departments from the UNC School of Medicine Faculty Practice will include Surgery (including general, thoracic, plastics, cardiac and vascular, GI and surgical oncology), OB-GYN, Orthopedics and Neurology. Other UNC Health Care Alliance entities in the MOB include UNC Rex, Raleigh Orthopedics and UNC Physician’s Network who will provide Surgery (general, breast, colorectal), digestive healthcare, heart and vascular services, radiology, family medicine, urgent care and pediatrics.