Here at Community Access Network, we are proud to provide compassionate and affordable care to people in our community. From our downtown 5th Street location, we provide health care to anyone who walks through our doors, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.
It’s National Health Center Week, and Community Access Network is excited to be a part of this powerful collection of health care providers helping uplift communities nationwide. We celebrate the things that make health centers unique. But what are they?
Today, we’ll explain some of the key differences between hospitals and health centers, so you can understand when to go to each — and why.
What is a Health Center?
According to the Bureau of Primary Health Care (BPHC), health centers are “community-based and patient-directed organizations that provide affordable, accessible, high-quality primary health care services to individuals and families.” Most health centers provide a wide range of services, including check-ups and preventive care, treatment for illness and some diseases, mental and behavioral health care, and dentistry. Some (like Community Access Network) even have a pharmacy on-site to provide convenient, low-cost prescriptions and medications to patients.
Health centers receive funds from federal, state, and local governments, nonprofits, and the community to improve public health and keep health care costs low. The federal government gives grants to health centers because they give underserved and low-income communities better access to care and help coordinate care management of patients with multiple health care needs.
Differences Between Health Centers and Hospitals
Even though health centers provide accessible, convenient, and low-cost health care to patients, they can’t do everything for every patient. You wouldn’t go to a dentist for a broken leg. In a similar way, there are certain health issues that health centers can’t fix. In those situations, patients need to go to a hospital.
If you need to decide whether you should go to your local health center or go to the hospital, it’s important to know what they each do. Some of the key differences between health centers and hospitals include:
Hospitals and large health care facilities often provide a wide range of services, including diagnostics, surgeries, and long-term care.
On the other hand, health centers are community-based clinics that focus on primary care and preventive services. They offer routine check-ups, vaccinations, screenings, and treatment for common illnesses. Many health centers have specialists on staff — like pediatricians, gynecologists, and behavioral and mental health specialists — who can assess and treat some conditions, and can refer you to external specialists if necessary.
Cost of Services
Health centers also prioritize accessibility and affordability, making them great options for regular health care needs. Hospitals charge higher fees because their fees must cover the cost of larger care teams, expensive specialized diagnostic and treatment technology, and more.
The cost of care at a community health center is often much lower than at a hospital. By focusing on general and preventive health care and referring patients to specialists in the community when necessary, they can keep the costs of their services lower and more accessible.
Specialized physicians at hospitals have in-depth knowledge and expertise in diagnosing and treating complex medical conditions, can perform intricate surgeries, and utilize new and emerging technologies.
Health centers, on the other hand, generally have primary care doctors who offer comprehensive and preventive care for many general health concerns. Both hospital and health center physicians play essential roles in providing quality health care, but their areas of specialization may differ to meet various patient needs.
Hospitals are generally better prepared to treat patients suffering from trauma in emergency situations. Ambulances take patients to hospital emergency rooms for care after an injury or if they are experiencing life-threatening symptoms of illness.
Health centers focus on preventing accidents and illness by providing preventive medicine. While medical staff at health centers can sometimes provide care to someone in an emergency, hospitals and emergency rooms typically have more specialized life-support equipment and the ability to perform major surgeries in dire situations, like after a car accident.
Inpatient vs. Outpatient
Hospitals are equipped for longer-term inpatient care, which can be necessary for people with life-threatening illnesses or for people recovering from major surgery. Some hospitals also offer inpatient treatment to patients with mental and behavioral health issues, while health centers are more likely to refer patients in need of these services to an external provider.
Health centers like Community Access Network provide care to their patients during regular hours. Patients come to the health center to be evaluated and receive treatment and don’t stay the night in the health center.
Benefits of Community Health Centers
Health centers are conveniently located in communities or neighborhoods, making it easier for people to access health care, especially if they don’t have reliable transportation to large hospitals that are far away. They bring primary care services closer to individuals, which is particularly important for people living in underserved or rural areas. Having access to health care through nearby health centers means patients can receive regular check-ups, preventive care, and early detection of health issues.
Continuity of Care
When patients can see and interact with their doctors frequently, they receive more and better health care. Health centers strive to establish consistent connections between patients and health care providers who understand their medical history, lifestyle, and individual needs. Regularly engaging their own care helps patients know and understand their own health information. This personalized approach is often called “continuity of care,” and studies show it leads to better health outcomes.
Health centers prioritize affordable care, making it easier on your wallet. They focus on preventive services, which help catch potential health issues early, saving you from expensive treatments down the road. Health centers often provide a range of services under one roof, reducing the need for referrals to specialists and avoiding additional costs. They also work closely with community programs and offer sliding-scale fees or discounted rates based on income, ensuring that quality health care remains accessible to all.
Referral and Care Coordination
Because health centers focus on general health and wellness and don’t typically house large diagnostic and medical treatment equipment, they build networks of relationships with specialists in and around the community. If a health center can’t provide the care a patient needs, they can refer that patient to a nearby specialist who has the knowledge and equipment to help. Health center physicians can coordinate patient care between different specialists, and if you have health insurance, they can help explain to insurance companies why expensive specialist appointments and treatments are necessary so insurance will cover the procedures.
Most community health centers participate in outreach and community health-based programs so they can learn what health services the community needs and teach their neighbors about what the health center can do. Health centers often work with local nonprofits, government agencies, and schools to make their services even easier to access. Health centers might host free health screenings, dental clinics, and workshops to reach and educate people who otherwise might not make an appointment. By engaging in the community at large, health centers hope to improve the health of more local people and uplift the community as a whole.
Community Access Network Is Here For You
Community Access Network is here to help, no matter what you need. If we can’t help you with your problem ourselves, we can connect you with other community-based organizations who can. Whether you need health care services, are struggling to find childcare, don’t have enough to eat, or are facing any other challenge to your safety, security, and wellness, come talk to us.
We accept walk-ins and appointments at our 5th Street location. If you’d like to make an appointment with one of our providers, please give us a call today.
Call us: 434-818-7880