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SMC offers more primary care appointments

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More north country residents may seek primary care services because of a recent expansion at Samaritan’s Plaza Family Health Center.

Additional appointment slots have opened up at the center, 1575 Washington St., as health care reform shifts the need of physician assistants and nurse practitioners from an inpatient hospital setting to a larger focus on outpatient clinics, according to Dr. Joseph D. Wetterhahn, family practice physician with the health center.

“Our mid-level providers are taking two or three new patients a day,” Dr. Wetterhahn said. “New patients are a challenge; you’ve got a lot to learn. Often, they come without records or you have to do a lot of digging.”

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants, he said, have been managing independently and co-managing the more sick patients with their collaborating physicians. They’re used to more medically complicated patients because of hospital admissions, but the shift in service will enhance Samaritan’s team approach to treating primary care patients.

“I don’t want to be the only one to know my patient,” Dr. Wetterhahn said. “I want someone else to know them so they can say, ‘she doesn’t look right.’ It’s thinking about the patient and knowing them.”

That ties right in with the clinic’s federal designation as a Level III Patient Care Medical Home. That requires the clinic to “meet and maintain rigorous standards in quality, access and coordination of care,” according to a Samaritan news release.

Appointments will be available daily for people with the most minor, acute problems, such as a sore throat, and for patients who feel there is a specific concern about their health.

Samaritan Plaza Family Health Center is the first of Samaritan’s primary care centers to implement the change, but others soon will follow suit.

Dr. Wetterhahn said changes in health care delivery are not just about expansion of primary care hours at Samaritan’s outpatient clinics; rather, “our job is being changed through the Affordable Care Act in ways we’re only beginning to see.”

That includes Samaritan’s recent development of Web access for patient portals, where patients can go on Samaritan’s website and log on to retrieve personal information and have increased communication with providers.

Keeping patients healthier at home and within the community is the goal, to avoid a costly hospital admission for a medical problem that could have been treated earlier in an outpatient setting.

To help reduce those unnecessary admissions, Samaritan’s Family Health Network will look for patients of its primary care practices who have not been seen in a few years, Dr. Wetterhahn said.

“Some people have fallen off the radar,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is pull them in and get their health care back on track.”

To set up an appointment with one of the Plaza Family Health Center’s 10 providers, call the center at 786-7300.

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