The Value of Community Health Centers, Part 2
Dr. Constance Tucker, Chief Medical Officer, Gardner Health Services
As a community health center, Gardner is dedicated to serving anyone who steps through its doors. We are constantly seeking to improve the quality and accessibility of the care we provide. At the same time, we are also working to improve our efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Most of us are not used to thinking of health centers such as Gardner as sources of cost savings and even economic growth for the communities they serve. But new research about the fiscal impact of our work has shown that health centers generate significant returns on investment.
The most obvious "pay-off" is that community health centers reduce the need for costly emergency room visits, hospital stays, and even specialty care. We do this by providing primary care, preventative care, and health education to traditionally underserved groups. We also focus on reducing barriers to accessing care, from fees to transportation to language abilities and more.
The cost savings from community health center services add up quickly. Data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality showed dramatic differences in 2008 between for the average costs per patient per day for these healthcare delivery methods:
Hospital inpatient: $41.36
Hospital outpatient: $7.59
Emergency room: $3.64
All physician settings: $2.64
Health center: $1.67
In fact, the National Association of Community Health Centers has estimated that health centers save $1,263 per person per year, and up to $24 billion annually in the U.S.
Finally, I'd like to mention how we benefit the economy. The health sector overall has been credited with fueling job growth and economic activity, and community health centers are no exception. The National Association of Community Health Centers estimates that with continued investment, health centers will generate $9.2 billion in economic benefits by 2015. And these benefits will primarily be seen in economically challenged areas.
Of course, data doesn't give the full picture of all that we do at Gardner. However, it is gratifying to see research that shows community health centers can provide high-quality care with better results, while still lowering the costs of medical services. This knowledge will be important in helping community health centers demonstrate leadership on the local, state, and national levels in improving our healthcare system.
Data sources: National Association of Community Health Centers, Inc.; Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; Bureau of Primary Health Care, Health Resources and Services Administration