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Why your doctor might start asking a lot more questions

Why your doctor might start asking a lot more questions
Patient Lucia Jimenez has her prescription filled by pharmacist Alaria Kiraz, left, at AltaMed clinic in East Los Angeles. AltaMed clinics serve patients who are part of L.A. Care Health Plan. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Many residents of Los Angeles County might soon find they are getting more attention and questions from their doctors.

That's because L.A. Care Health Plan -- a public health plan in L.A. County with more than 1.8 million members -- received a $15.8-million federal grant this week to help change the way physicians interact with patients and deliver care.

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The funding, part of the Transforming Clinical Practice Initiative, is supposed to help achieve a key goal of Obamacare: improve primary and preventative care and thereby reduce healthcare costs. The Affordable Care Act promotes the idea that keeping people healthy -- both by providing quality care to patients and catching diseases early -- prevents the need for expensive medical care, saving money in the long run.

"Supporting doctors and other healthcare professionals change the way they work is critical to improving quality and spending our health care dollars more wisely," said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell in a statement.

The department awarded a total of $685 million to 39 medical groups, health care systems and professional organizations across the country as part of the initiative.

In L.A. County, coaches will visit the offices of 3,100 clinicians who are part of the L.A. Care Health Plan, which serves patients in two government-subsidized insurance programs -- Medi-Cal and Covered California. The coaches will work with doctors to improve coordination of care and reduce serious illnesses, said Mary Franz, the plan's senior executive director of health information technology.

Patients will receive more health information and be asked to play a more active role in their medical care, she said.

In some cases, a doctor's office may proactively reach out to patients who need help with nutrition and improving their diet, she said.

There will be an emphasis on care that can avoid or reduce costly treatment in the future, including working more closely with diabetes patients to manage medicines and what they eat.

Franz's team will collect data during the four-year grant period to learn what works and what doesn't, she said.

"We're very excited about this," she said. "That we can provide this ... for the underserved population, that really means a lot."

Another Southland organization, the Children's Hospital of Orange County, also received a $17.6-million grant through the initiative. The money will be used to examine ways to reduce costs associated with six common pediatric conditions, including asthma, headaches and acne.

Follow @skarlamangla on Twitter for more health news.

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