State of community clinics in Harris county

Officials in Harris County are hoping new research can help improve the clinics across the county. In an effort to strengthen the health care system, researchers determined some crucial areas in need of improvement: servicing the uninsured, and dealing with capacity and specialty care.

The effort to improve the clinics has been underway since 2008, when researchers began their investigation on primary care safety nets in Harris County. At that time, they found that the safety net was a “loosely organized group of providers” that demonstrated “a significant gap between primary care need and primary care provided in the county.”

Now eight years later, there has been a significant change, but there is still more work to do.

“Since 2008, four new healthcare entities and 41 new clinic locations have been established in Harris County, bringing the total number of primary care entities to 23 and doubling the number of safety-net clinic locations to 78,” said Jessica Pugil, a researcher with Working Partner. “In 2015, these community clinics collectively provided 1.9 million patient visits, up 300 percent from 2008. This equates to approximately 546,274 patients served.”

Pugil said almost two-thirds (64 percent) of patients served by these community clinics in 2015 however, were uninsured.

“One of the biggest issues within the healthcare system, is that we still have many people who are uninsured, which means there is not a resource to pay for their care other than what they can come out of pocket for,” said Elena Marks, president and CEO of Episcopal Health Foundation. “Even though most of these clinics primarily serve low income and uninsured, they only have so much capacity and only so many patients they can see with no reimbursements.”

In addition to Marks’ remarks, McAuthor added capacity, coupled with specialty care as other major challenges facing the health care system.

“In our research, we found getting patient referrals to specialty care like cardiology, neurology and cancer care remains the biggest gap in services for the safety-net clinics,” said McAuthor. “This is due to the lack in capacity of healthcare providers. A lot of clinics have named access as their greatest need.”

To bridge the gap, Pugil and the rest of the research team suggests for healthcare providers to first organize a summit of clinical leaders and tertiary healthcare providers to discuss and design a better model to help patients access needed advanced care.

To find out more information on the state of Harris county clinics, visit www.episcopalhealth.org.