How a King County Family Planning clinic earned a national stamp of quality

When a woman comes into King County’s Eastgate Public Health Center for a birth control consultation, or STD testing, the clinician she sees is coordinating with her other medical providers (such as family practice, ob/gyn, etc.), which saves her time and prevents future confusion.

That coordination is now standardized in a way that’s won a national recognition for “quality” — a tribute to everyone involved, and a new path for family planning clinics.

Specifically, the Family Planning program earned designation as a Patient Centered Specialty Practice – Level 3, the highest level, from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA). This is one of the nation’s first efforts to see family planning through a new lens, because the NCQA quality certification is usually reserved for medical specialties as heart or cancer specialists.

The Insider talked with Family Planning program manager Heather Maisen, who led the year-long certification effort.

Family Planning staff at Eastgate PHC earned the Specialty Practice stamp of quality

Yrma Aguilar
Tiffany Tarrant
Tiffany Tarrant
Sarah Gollhofer
Sarah Gollhofer
Marina Ruiz
Marina Ruiz
Enrique Palacios
Beth Kruse
Beth Kruse

How do clients benefit from getting services at a clinic that has a Patient Centered Specialty Practice designation?

Communication will be better with the patient’s other medical providers – especially their primary care provider (who might be in family practice, or ob-gyn). One of the key goals of the PCSP program is to have information about the treatments you’ve had, the medications you’ve been prescribed, the tests you’ve been given – to have all of this shared with the other doctors or nurse practitioners that you see, with your permission.

That means they won’t depend on you to explain to them exactly what happened at your last appointment, or ask you to duplicate those tests and treatments.  They’ll know why one contraceptive was prescribed instead of another.

Also, some primary care providers might not be aware of the latest contraceptive methods on the market and who can safely use them – because this isn’t the main part of their practice. But in a specialized Family Planning clinic, we are experts in sexual and reproductive health services. The more we coordinate with other clinics, the more those providers will understand how the patient could benefit from a referral to a Family Planning specialist.

What does “quality” mean in this context?

This program comes out of the “medical home” model of care – where everyone in a clinic focuses first on what will meet the patient’s needs, rather than starting with what’s most convenient for the providers. The four key areas for a Patient Centered Specialty Practice are:

  • improved coordination and communication between specialty and primary care
  • timely access to services
  • continuous quality improvement
  • involvement of the patient or caregiver in managing care

Why is this so unusual for a Family Planning clinic?

The four focus areas are not unusual, but being a “medical specialty” is. Traditionally, Family Planning providers have not been thought of as specialty providers, like a cardiologist or an ear-nose-throat doctor. However, in the State of Washington women can choose where they access family planning services. Many of them feel most comfortable getting these highly sensitive, confidential services from Family Planning experts. So, there’s a need to better coordinate care between primary care providers and Family Planning providers, just like other specialty providers need to do.

In this context, the Public Health – Seattle & King County Family Planning Program was competitively selected as one of four national demonstration projects, applying the PCSP framework to Family Planning practices. The others are in New York, Pennsylvania and Maine.

What are some of the key steps to earn Level-3 status?

Fortunately, we already embrace many of the best practices – but we still needed to document and clarify what we do. Patient-centered care is a core value and mission of all providers under the federal Title X program, which funds Family Planning. For example, we’re already expected to connect with primary care providers, and to give culturally and linguistically appropriate care. Our staff embraced the effort and found a way to leverage our new electronic health record system, by creating a process to always ask for and record each patient’s primary care provider.

It’s pushing us to strengthen relationships and communication with the key primary care providers in our community and in the safety net, so they understand the value of referring patients to a Family Planning practice.

And there’s a benefit for those primary care providers who have trouble scheduling a patient, when the patient wants to see someone right away about birth control. If the provider refers to a Family Planning expert for their patient’s sexual and reproductive health care needs, they free up their capacity to see more patients for acute medical conditions and chronic disease management. It benefits the whole health system.

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I'm part of the communications team at Public Health - Seattle & King County and work closely with all of the programs in the Community Health Services Division.