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Health care homes — a modernised, integrated revamping of the traditional doctor’s general practice — are an American innovation which has been adopted in Australia and is gaining traction in New Zealand.
The SDHB adopted a health care homes policy earlier this year as part of its primary healthcare strategy, and in July it announced the first practices which would implement the new model.
It is hoped benefits of health care homes will include improved access to healthcare for disadvantaged and rural patients and allowing better management of long-term conditions.
This week the Productivity Commission released the findings of research into how effective Wellington’s introduction of health care homes had been.
It found most of the expected benefits from health care homes were likely to be long-term ones so they were not statistically measurable, as yet.
However, it did find a "small but statistically significant" reduction in people going to hospital emergency departments.
"That is hugely encouraging," SDHB Primary and Community executive director Lisa Gestro said.
"Attribution is always difficult — what exactly was the reason for that downturn — but if we can point to a range of things rather than any specific one thing that is going to be enough ... a downturn in ED is a downturn in ED."
The Productivity Commission report said a problem with its approach had been that its research was focused on hospital outcomes, and recommended future studies should be broader to examine what was happening in general practices.
"Traditionally we have always struggled to get good primary care data — we are always a lot more robust in terms of what we capture in hospitals as it is more activity-related," Mrs Gestro said.
"But we have made a deliberate push to understand what data set we need, and how to go about collecting that from primary care."
The SDHB would monitor similar statistics to the Wellington study to contribute to a national perspective on health care homes, but would also ask its own questions.
"Locally we will be considering other things, mostly in relation to the chronic care management programme we are rolling out in primary care as part of the overall programme," Mrs Gestro said.
"There will be metrics such as the increased use telehealth and telemedicine, and the distance that people are having to travel and the frequency — those will be very relevant for us."