Federal clinics for the poor give just as good care as private practicesS

Now that the Supreme Court has okayed the Affordable Care Act, the medical profession is going to find itself with a lot more customers — many of which will doubtless be shunted off to Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) and their look-alikes, which tend to treat "underserved" and low-income populations. These centers are aimed at populations with limited access to health care — so they're quite possibly not as fancy as private practices. But it turns out they achieve the same outcomes — or, in some cases, better ones.

Top image: Alex Proimos/Flickr.

A newly published study (free to read online here) in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine looked at how FQHCs and "look-alike" clinics fared in serving low-income patients, as compared to private practice providers. They were rated on 18 different factors in four sections:

(1) pharmacologic management of common chronic diseases, including atrial fıbrillation, heart failure, coronary artery disease, asthma, and depression (nine measures); (2) preventive counseling regarding smoking cessation, diet, and exercise for individuals at high risk of coronary artery disease by age, gender, and comorbidities (fıve measures); (3) appropriate use of screening tests for blood pressure, electrocardiogram, and urinalysis (three measures); and (4) appropriate prescribing in elderly patients (one measure)

FQHCs receive federal funding, and both they and their "look-alikes" get enhanced Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement, and treat underserved and low-income populations — so there's a widespread assumption that the service they provide is lower quality. Yet, this study showed that in eleven of the areas the researchers looked at, FQHCs performed just as well as private practice doctors. They actually did better in six areas, and performed worse in just one: diet counseling in at-risk adolescents.

So while they may have patients that are at a socioeconomic and health disadvantage, these federally funded clinics do an ample job of caring for them. And with millions more to be seeking treatment under the new law, your local Community Health Center might get a bit more crowded.