A Physician’s Perspective on Community Health Care: Maura O’Leary, M.D.

Thanks go to Susan Climo for interviewing Dr. O’Leary for this blog post today!

Dr. Maura O’Leary knows first-hand how a medical home can work to the benefit not only of patients, but providers as well.  She was the lead clinician three years ago when VG Hillsboro became the second clinic to adopt the medical home model.  “The transition was stressful at first,” said Dr. O’Leary.  “But I see a marked difference in how we practice medicine and in how we treat our patients.  It’s all for the best.”

Dr. Maura O’Leary

In the medical home, providers are part of a team consisting of a nurse, a team assistant, a patient care coordinator and a primary care provider.  When a patient comes to the clinic for the first time he/she is introduced to the team and receives a card with a phone number to contact the care coordinator directly with any questions or concerns.   “Our patients know they can speak directly to one of their medical home team members, which is really comforting.”

Each morning, members of the teams meet to go over the charts of the patients scheduled for that day.  It gives them a chance to determine each patient’s needs; how those needs might best be met and by which team member.  “Often many of the patient’s concerns can be handled by another team member so that when I step into the exam room, it’s for a specific need and I’m better prepared.  We have confidence in one another and feel responsible as a team for a patient’s health outcomes.  It relieves a lot of stress knowing that concerns and follow up will be handled professionally.”

To accommodate the team-based approach, Dr. O’Leary helped reorganize the clinic into ‘pods’ where team members work in close proximity to one another and can readily exchange ideas and advice.  “It’s so easy for any team member to ask questions or to clarify something concerning patient care.”  Virginia Garcia clinics are improving work spaces and procuring equipment so that every team has what they need within reach, according to O’Leary.  “We also have a Sustainability Committee at Hillsboro who studies best practices and how we can standardize work practices across all teams.  This will help us define who is responsible for what on each team.  We’re working on solutions from the ground up.  Everyone contributes.”

Even before she entered medical school, Dr. O’Leary knew she wanted to work in a practice that serves vulnerable community members.  She learned of Virginia Garcia while attending OHSU.  “We were encouraged to do a rotation at a safety net clinic, and for me, Virginia Garcia was the obvious choice.  I’m tremendously proud of Virginia Garcia because we do good work.   I feel lucky to work here.”

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