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Chula Vista Health Clinic Puts Patient-Friendly Design First

Evening Edition

Aired 3/5/14 on KPBS News.

Research suggests health centers designed with calm, pleasing environments produce better patient outcomes. That concept is being put to the test in a new community health center in Chula Vista.

You can tell there’s something different about the Chula Vista Medical Center as soon as you walk in the door.

Instead of your standard directory with providers listed in alphabetical order, there’s a brightly colored sign with nature photographs.

Terry Whitaker is chief operating officer of the San Ysidro Health Center, which oversees the Chula Vista clinic. He explained each of the building’s three floors has its own theme, linked by a photo icon.

“So for registration and all the first floor, it’s a desert theme photo that’s attached to each of the departments," Whitaker said. "For the second floor, it’s an ocean theme. And for the third floor, it’s a mountain theme.”

Whitaker said to make it easier for patients to find their way, the appointment cards have photo icons, too.

“So, patients come in, they don’t remember where they were last time," Whitaker said. "All they have to do is match up that photo with the icon that’s on this directory.”

Upstairs, the exam rooms have hardwood floors and pastel-colored walls. All of the doctors, nurses, and medical assistants sit together in large, open spaces.

Dr. Maria Carriedo-Ceniceros, the center's chief medical officer, said there’s a good reason for that.

“We want better communication. We want them to work together as a team," she explained. "The whole concept of a patient-centered medical home is that the patient is at the center of the care, and everybody on the care team is involved in their care.”

It’s part of a new trend in primary care: integrating all members of the medical staff into one unit.

Carriedo-Ceniceros said under the old system, physicians stayed in their offices between appointments, away from other team members.

The idea behind the new concept is that having everyone in a single area fosters more collaboration and better care.

Carriedo-Ceniceros said patients have noticed the difference.

“This clinic, since we’ve opened, has received the highest patient satisfaction scores," she said. "This past month was 96.1, which is extremely high. Better wait time, better interaction, higher scores in courtesy and professionalism by staff, by providers. It’s been very positive.”

The San Ysidro Health Center has a network of clinics throughout the South Bay.

About 1 in 4 households in the area makes less than $35,000 a year. More than half the San Ysidro Health Center’s 85,000 clients are uninsured.

Part of their new mission is helping people sign up for insurance under Covered California. So the new clinic really fills a need.

There are other community clinics in the South Bay, but none with the wide array of services under one roof, that the Chula Vista Medical Plaza has.

In addition to primary care and pediatrics, there’s an urgent care center, behavioral health, and even dentistry, all in the same building.

Patients no longer have to go to multiple locations to get all their needs met. Laura Borbon is severely anemic. She comes to the clinic a couple of times a week for treatment.

Third-year medical resident Cristina Deis checks up on patient Laura Borbon, who's being treated for anemia.

“If I walk in somewhere and I feel that I’m not getting the attention, I will turn around and leave," Borbon said. "So, I’ve liked it here very much. They’re very alert, they’re always there to help. So it’s a great place.”

Cristina Deis, a third-year resident in family medicine, said this clinic is a cut above most community health centers.

“It’s pretty, but I think it goes beyond that. It gives patients a sense of pride," she explained. "They’re proud to come to this clinic, they’re proud to say this is where they receive their medical care. And especially in a setting where a large proportion of the patients are under served, I think that that says a lot.”

Since it opened five months ago, the Chula Vista Medical Plaza has treated 13,000 people.

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