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The Family Health Center Inc. has made a staunch commitment to improving patient care, including reducing the waiting time at one of the largest community health centers in the nation.

The Trendsetters is a new, five-member redesign team which has already reduced the waiting time of patients of the center's adult medicine division by nearly 50 percent.

Work is continuing to reach patients in other divisions while maintaining quality health care services.

The team's enterprising efforts have since earned it the designation as the exemplification of "initiative," the character trait for August in Orangeburg County's own "Community of Character" initiative.

"I'm very excited about it because one of the constant complaints we hear from patients is how long they wait when they get to Family Health Centers. But beyond even what the team is doing, I'm already looking at how we can spread their work through the whole center," FHC CEO Dr. Arthur Kennedy said.

Kennedy explained the redesign committee was formed out of a Community Access Program grant. The center was one of five applicants awarded technical assistance through the grant.

A five-member team was formed. A technical assistance "coach" helps members plan and organize redesign models for improved patient care.

"This grant is low-budget. A lot of the work is done actually by your staff here, and these people have done an outstanding job," Kennedy said.

Team member Carrie Showman said, "We're completely redoing the way our visits work from top to bottom, from the time a patient comes in to how they move around to the different stations. We're just trying to get them in and out of the office quicker while still providing quality service."

"Our focal point is on adult medicine. We've been working on this since February. Our patient waiting time before was an average of 103 minutes. Through working with the redesign model, we've got it down to below 45 minutes, which was our target goal for an office visit," Showman said.

Other team members said it was an honor to be chosen as the county's exemplification of initiative because it took initiative and teamwork to put an increased focus on improving patient care.

Team member Dr. Huong Phae said time-saving measures have included prepping patients' medical charts a day before their visits, calling patients to remind them of their appointments and making staff more accessible to their patients for blood work and other medical services instead of patients being shifted from one station to the other.

A patient/physician panel is also being established to acquaint patients with their care givers, particularly since many patients at FHC don't have regular physicians, Phae said.

"The patient is our focus now, so we do everything we can around the patient instead of the patient doing everything around us. We were noticing that there were some problems with the system. As members of the team,… we're looking at it as if we were an outsider and asking, 'What can we do to change?' " Phae said.

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"We know the patient, and we know they've got the care that they would get no matter where they go, but then we've got to make it easier for them to get that access to care," she said.

Doris Haigler said, "A lot of our patients were transferring out, so our focus was to maintain our patients and make sure that they received the type of care that they needed throughout the community regardless of their ability to pay. The primary goal for us was to make our patient visits here as comfortable and efficient as possible."

Shauna Patterson said, "It's a lot of work, and I think we're all hard workers. I think the process became a labor of love. We're all connected to not only our patients, but our organization. We became personally committed to what we are doing."

Team member Constance Wilson, who serves as a customer service representative and medical office assistant, said she has spent more time interacting with patients and making the center's environment less impersonal.

"Before, you just kinda sat at your desk and waited for the patient to come. … Now you're going to actually get up from your desk, go greet the patient … just like they were a guest in your home … and provide care to them. We get their medical information right there in a room … instead of talking to them at a window where everybody else can hear what you're talking to them about," Wilson said.

Kennedy said an ultimate goal will be to develop a redesign manual to which "any new employee" at the center will be introduced to the team's continued work in improving patient care.

"We want to make sure that there are opportunities for the whole center to learn about their work," Kennedy said.

T&D Staff Writer Dionne Gleaton can be reached by e-mail at dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or by phone at 803-533-5534.

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