Ambulatory Health Services Provided to Low-income and Homeless Adult Patients in a Major Community Health Center

OBJECTIVE. The homeless are more likely than other poor and vulnerable populations to manifest serious health problems. Early research focused on needs assessments of this population; current work has shifted to examine issues of access, use of health services, and barriers to care. However, current research has not examined whether model clinics designed for the homeless have created parity with their low-income domiciled peers in terms of provision of ambulatory services. Such data are increasingly in demand as managed care looms just over the political horizon as a means of providing services to low-income patients. SETTING. A major community ambulatory health center in West Los Angeles. PATIENTS. Homeless (n =210) and low-income domiciled (n=250) patients. DESIGN. A medical record review of care provided over a one-year period to homeless and low-income domiciled adult patients in a major community ambulatory health center in West Lost Angeles was conducted. Data were collected on length of visits, laboratory tests, procedures, and services, immunizations, specialty clinic referrals, medications, and travel vouchers. RESULTS. On average, homeless patients were provided with as many outside laboratory tests per patient as low-income domiciled patients (1.1 vs. 1.3). Further, they returned for more visits (3.4 vs. 2.9), were more likely to have had longer visits (88% vs. 61%), and were provided with more laboratory tests (2.3 vs. 1.7), procedures and services (3.1 vs. 1.1), referrals (1.3 vs. 0.7), medications (4.4 vs. 3.3), and travel vouchers (0.6 vs. 0.2). Many of the procedures and services received by the homeless were for nonmedical assistance. Preventive health services such as tuberculosis skin tests, sexually transmitted disease (STD) screening, and Pap tests were provided to both homeless and domiciled patients at low rates. CONCLUSIONS. Findings from this study on the provision of care in a major West Los Angeles community health center indicate that homeless patients receiving care from a model program designed to address their special needs will return for follow-up visits and will utilize services at least as much as low-income domiciled patients. (Authors)

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Journal of General Internal Medicine