May 2004, VOLUME113 /ISSUE Supplement 4

Policy Statement

Organizational Principles to Guide and Define the Child Health Care System and/or Improve the Health of All Children

  1. Medical Home Initiatives for Children With Special Needs Project Advisory Committee


The American Academy of Pediatrics proposed a definition of the medical home in a 1992 policy statement. Efforts to establish medical homes for all children have encountered many challenges, including the existence of multiple interpretations of the “medical home” concept and the lack of adequate reimbursement for services provided by physicians caring for children in a medical home. This new policy statement contains an expanded and more comprehensive interpretation of the concept and an operational definition of the medical home.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) believes that the medical care of infants, children, and adolescents ideally should be accessible, continuous, comprehensive, family centered, coordinated,1 compassionate, and culturally effective.2 It should be delivered or directed by well-trained physicians who provide primary care3 and help to manage and facilitate essentially all aspects of pediatric care. The physician should be known to the child and family and should be able to develop a partnership of mutual responsibility and trust with them. These characteristics define the “medical home.” In contrast to care provided in a medical home, care provided through emergency departments, walk-in clinics, and other urgent-care facilities, though sometimes necessary, is more costly and often less effective. Although inadequate reimbursement for services offered in the medical home remains a very significant barrier to full implementation of this concept,4,5 reimbursement is not the subject of this statement. It deserves coverage in other AAP forums.

Physicians should seek to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of health care for all children and strive to attain a medical home for every child in their community.6 Although barriers such as geography, personnel constraints, practice patterns, and economic and social forces create challenges, the AAP believes that comprehensive health care for infants, children, and adolescents should encompass the following services:

  1. Provision of family-centered care through developing a trusting partnership with families, respecting their diversity, and recognizing that they are the constant in a child's life.

  2. Sharing clear and unbiased information with the family about the child's medical care and management and about the specialty and community services and organizations they can access.

  3. Provision of primary care, including but not restricted to acute and chronic care and preventive services, including breastfeeding promotion and management,7 immunizations, growth and developmental assessments, appropriate screenings, health care supervision, and patient and parent counseling about health, nutrition, safety, parenting, and psychosocial issues.

  4. Assurance that ambulatory and inpatient care for acute illnesses will be continuously available (24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year).

  5. Provision of care over an extended period of time to ensure continuity. Transitions, including those to other pediatric providers or into the adult health care system, should be planned and organized with the child and family.

  6. Identification of the need for consultation and appropriate referral to pediatric medical subspecialists and surgical specialists. (In instances in which the child enters the medical system through a specialty clinic, identification of the need for primary pediatric consultation and referral is appropriate.) Primary, pediatric medical subspecialty, and surgical specialty care providers should collaborate to establish shared management plans in partnership with the child and family and to formulate a clear articulation of each other's role.

  7. Interaction with early intervention programs, schools, early childhood education and child care programs, and other public and private community agencies to be certain that the special needs of the child and family are addressed.

  8. Provision of care coordination services in which the family, the physician, and other service providers work to implement a specific care plan as an organized team.

  9. Maintenance of an accessible, comprehensive, central record that contains all pertinent information about the child, preserving confidentiality.

  10. Provision of developmentally appropriate and culturally competent health assessments and counseling to ensure successful transition to adult-oriented health care, work, and independence in a deliberate, coordinated way.

Medical care may be provided in various locations, such as physicians' offices, hospital outpatient clinics, school-based and school-linked clinics, community health centers, and health department clinics. Regardless of the venue in which the medical care is provided, to meet the definition of medical home, a designated physician must ensure that the aforementioned services are provided (see Table 1 for more details).


Desirable Characteristics of a Medical Home

The need for an ongoing source of health care—ideally a medical home—for all children has been identified as a priority for child health policy reform at the national and local level. The US Department of Health and Human Services' Healthy People 2010 goals and objectives state that “all children with special health care needs will receive regular ongoing comprehensive care within a medical home”8 and multiple federal programs require that all children have access to an ongoing source of health care. In addition, the Future of Pediatric Education II goals and objectives state: “Pediatric medical education at all levels must be based on the health needs of children in the context of the family and community” and “all children should receive primary care services through a consistent ‘medical home.’”9 Over the next decade, with the collaboration of families, insurers, employers, government, medical educators, and other components of the health care system, the quality of life can be improved for all children through the care provided in a medical home.

Medical Home Initiatives for Children With Special Needs Project Advisory Committee, 2000–2001

Calvin J. Sia, MD, Chairperson

Richard Antonelli, MD

Vidya Bhushan Gupta, MD

Gilbert Buchanan, MD

David Hirsch, MD

John Nackashi, MD

Jill Rinehart, MD


Antoinnette Parisi Eaton, MD

Merle McPherson, MD, MPH

Maureen Mitchell

Bonnie Strickland, PhD

Trish Thomas


Thomas F. Tonniges, MD


  • All policy statements from the American Academy of Pediatrics automatically expire 5 years after publication unless reaffirmed, revised, or retired at or before that time.

AAP, American Academy of Pediatrics