UChicago Medicine expands its primary care footprint with new facilities and more providers

Dearborn

When the University of Chicago Medicine opens locations in Dearborn Station in the South Loop and in south suburban Homewood this summer, the academic health system will have nearly doubled its number of primary care providers from the prior year.

“Our goal is to improve patient access to the best possible care and to find new and convenient ways of delivering care,” said Les Stern, president of the UChicago Medicine Care Network, which works with the health system's faculty and service lines on primary care expansion. “Through these new locations, we can better meet the primary care needs of our patients, who then would have easy access to UChicago Medicine's network of specialists and full array of services.”

Academic health centers like UChicago Medicine, which play a critical role in providing complex specialty care, have been evolving to meet the changing needs of patients, many of whom are seeking access to care closer to where they live or work. Since July 2020, the number of primary care providers at UChicago Medicine has increased from 32 to 63, with 16 providers hired for suburban locations and 15 for downtown Chicago.

A May 2021 report on primary care from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concludes that “primary care is a common good” and that “it is the only part of healthcare where an increased supply is associated with better population health and more equitable outcomes.” The report credits primary care with decreased emergency room visits, improved preventive care, lower healthcare costs and better disease management and coordination.

At UChicago Medicine, primary care includes family medicine, geriatrics, gynecology, internal medicine and pediatrics. Primary care providers offer such preventative and routine services as checkups and wellness exams, immunizations, school and sports physicals, and health screenings for cancer and chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes. They also provide care for urgent medical issues, such as upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, sprains and bronchitis, as well as for common chronic health conditions such as diabetes, allergies, high blood pressure, asthma, arthritis, anxiety and depression.

Primary care providers also help to coordinate care with any needed specialists and help patients navigate the healthcare system.

John A. Flynn, MD, MBA, MEd, UChicago Medicine’s Chief Physician and Dean for Clinical Affairs, provides leadership of all physician practices at the South Side medical campus and in the community. He likens primary care providers to orchestra conductors who “make sure that everyone is working together for the benefit of the patient.”

Recruiting primary care providers, and helping them successfully build and manage their practices, is both a priority and challenge, given the nationwide shortage of these practitioners.

“The demand for primary care clinicians exceeds supply, but we’ve been remarkably successful with recruiting,” said Flynn. “I think that speaks to the caliber of the entire institution.”

In addition to primary care physicians, UChicago Medicine’s primary care practices also employ Advanced Practice Practitioners (APPs); these include nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other highly skilled care providers.

Stern calls APPs “a vital component of our growth strategy.”

“Our APPs practice at the top of their scope — as autonomous providers of quality clinical care who manage their own patient panel, and collaborate with physician colleagues when clinically necessary,” he added.

UChicago Medicine’s primary care model relies on a combination of primary care physicians and APPs, working in concert with specialty providers when needed. Through this approach, primary care providers can efficiently leverage UChicago Medicine’s technology and data resources and population health tools. These include registries, tracking systems and patient portals designed to help patients get needed preventive healthcare services and effectively manage chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes.

These tools are also used to measure quality and assure health equity.

“We put an equity lens on all of our metrics,” said Rajlakshmi Krishnamurthy, MD, UChicago Medicine’s Chief Transformation Officer and Vice President of Population Health, who oversees ambulatory quality improvement. “Whether we are screening for cancer, hypertension or diabetes, we look at whether there are differences in how well we are reaching patients by race and ethnicity.”

This information helps Krishnamurthy and her colleagues design targeted, culturally appropriate outreach programs, for example, to make sure patients are taking their medications or staying on track with their children’s vaccinations. Her team also ensures patients’ electronic medical records are updated and accurate, incorporating information from past providers and insurance companies.

“We are making sure new primary care providers are well-equipped with the tools and skills of UChicago Medicine at their fingertips,” said Krishnamurthy.

In March, UChicago Medicine expanded primary care services at its River East location at 355 E. Grand Avenue, adding 6,000 square feet of space, along with physicians, staff and other services. The outpatient center offers nearly two dozen different primary and specialty-care services.

A 10,000-square-foot primary care center is slated to open in July in south suburban Homewood, at 17805 S. Halsted Street.

In August, UChicago Medicine will open the 12,000-square-foot Dearborn Station outpatient center, at 47 W. Polk Street in Chicago’s Printer’s Row neighborhood. Staffed with nine providers, the facility will provide services for pediatrics, family medicine, internal medicine and obstetrics.

Housed in a designated historic landmark built in 1883, the Dearborn Station location has been developed into an advanced healthcare facility with 16 exam rooms where patients and families can have their primary healthcare needs met. The facility offers onsite laboratory testing, with immediate results available for A1c, glucose and urine pregnancy tests. This location also offers work desks with charging outlets throughout the waiting area.

UChicago Medicine’s new primary care facilities offer same-day and walk-in appointments, extended weekday and weekend hours, online scheduling, discounted or free parking and virtual visit options. Mobile check-in is offered on the MyChart app.

Watch a special archived presentation of UChicago Medicine's Facebook Live show on primary care services: https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/at-the-forefront-live/primary-care-atfl 

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