The US has spent several billion dollars on medical records, as part of the HITECH program. The goal of that spend was simple: portable medical records for patients. On our current path, we will have medical records, but without that magic word: “portable.” Ironically, the reason for this is identical to the root-cause of the problems with healthcare.gov
The root-cause of the initial failure of healthcare.gov was a lack of accountability and empowerment. There was no one person who was in charge of the operation, and those who were presumed to be in charge did not have the skill-set or political clout needed to make decisions about the project.
The result was the healthcare.gov train wreck. Thankfully, healthcare.gov was turned around.
That turn-around was the result of decisively fixing these exact issues.
Accountability restored, disaster averted.
You would think that the Obama administration and HHS would have learned the “accountability with empowerment” lesson well, if not for IT projects generally, then at least for projects involving Health IT.
Yet we are repeating this mistake with Meaningful Use. For those who are living in a cave with regards to healthcare reform, Meaningful Use is a set of standards designed to ensure that the money that the federal government spends on Electronic Healthcare Records (EHRs) for doctors results in clinically productive outcomes.
Since 2002, and possibly before, there have been moments of clarity and innovation in the health care sphere, from patient-centered to consumer-driven to value-based to outcomes design, from iPhone texts to wellness to electronic medical records to blue buttons and transparency. Yet the year 2015 will certainly be the standout year of transformation, most noted for the interstellar collision of all of these siloed ideas into the supernova Triple-A.
This is the year that the person reclaims his or her health.
The Triple A is not exactly the Triple AIM of Dr. Don Berwick (his is patient-centeredness, cost effectiveness and positive patient experience). Instead, this Triple A happens within and is directed by the person, whom we will identify as over age 18 and able to make decisions for him/her self.
The Triple A is marked by the following dimensions: Awareness, Activation and Accountability.
Initiatives to promote performance measurement need to be accompanied by support to improve care. Quality measure data should not only be technically correct, but should be organized such that their dissemination is a resource to aid in quality improvement activities. As such, quality measurement should be viewed as just one component of a learning health care system that also includes advancing the science of quality improvement, building providers’ capacity to improve care, transparently reporting performance, and creating formal accountability systems.
There are several strategies to make quality measure data more actionable for quality improvement purposes. For example, for publicly reported outcome measures, CMS provides hospitals with lists of the patients who are included in the calculation. Since the outcomes may occur outside the hospital for mortality and for readmissions that are at other hospitals, this information is often beyond what the hospitals already have available to them. These data give providers the ability to investigate care provided to individual patients, which in turn can support a variety of quality improvement efforts.
Should we hold hospitals accountable for what happens after a patient leaves the hospitals’ doors? A year ago, I thought the answer was no. A hospital’s job was to take care of sick patients, make them better and send them on their way. With more thought and consideration, I have come to conclude that I was probably wrong. It may be perfectly reasonable to hold hospitals accountable for care beyond their walls, but we should be clear why we’re doing it. Readmissions are not a good quality measure – but they may be a very good way to change the notion of accountability within the healthcare delivery system.
The debate around the readmissions measure has come to the forefront because of the CMS Hospital Readmission Reduction Program, which penalizes hospitals for “greater than expected” readmission rates. It has raised the question — does a hospital’s 30-day readmission rate measure the “quality of care” it provides? Over the last three years, the evidence has come in, and to my read, it is unequivocal. By most standards, the readmissions metric fails as a quality measure.
Why do I say that readmissions are a poor measure of hospital quality? First, we have to begin by thinking about what makes a good quality measure. Quality is about the essence of the thing being produced – a good or a service. The job of a car is to get you from place A to place B and a high-quality car may be one that does the job reliably, safely, or maybe even comfortably. The job of a restaurant is to provide a meal that you don’t have to cook — and a high quality restaurant may provide food that is fresh, tasty, or with an attention to service that you enjoy. What is the job of a hospital? When you get sick and require hospital services, a high-quality hospital should give you the right treatments, attend to your needs while you’re there, and make sure nothing bad (i.e. a new nosocomial infection) happens along the way. That’s how we measure hospital quality.
Quality measures for healthcare come in three flavors – structural measures (do you have enough intensivists manning your ICU?), processes measures (did you give the heart attack patient his or her aspirin?) and outcomes measures (did the pneumonia patient die?). The elemental part of both structural measures and process measures is that they have to be tied to an outcome we care about. If having more intensivists in the ICU does not lead to lower ICU mortality (or lower complication rates), we wouldn’t think it’s a particularly good quality measure. We know that giving aspirin to heart attack patients lowers their chances of dying by 25%. We have multiple randomized trials. We don’t need much more evidence. Hospitals that have the right structures in place and reliably deliver the right treatments can reasonably be called high-quality hospitals.
At a recent talk, Dartmouth’s Elliott Fisher facetiously remarked that we cannot yet be sure whether accountable care organizations (ACOs) will actually be accountable, caring, and organized. Well, if some providers have their way, they certainly won’t be accountable.
This story by Jordan Rau in the Washington Post relates comments being made as Medicare writes its rules governing the ACOs. Here are some quotes:
[S]ome prominent doctor and hospital groups are pushing for features that some experts say could undermine the overall goal – improving care while containing costs. They’re seeking limits on how the quality of their care will be judged, along with bonus rules that would make it easier for them to be paid extra for their work and to be paid quickly.
Here’s the one I like best:
The Federation of American Hospitals, representing for-profit facilities, goes further, urging that ACOs be allowed to choose their patients. “Providers are better positioned than CMS to determine which of their patients would be appropriate candidates,” the federation wrote.
So, we are happy to be held accountable, but only if we get to choose which patients are part of our network.
As I’ve written before, the Big Idea behind ACOs (Accountable Care Organizations) is the notion of accountability, not the specifics of organizational structure.
The purpose of the ACP position paper is to address the gaps that exist in care coordination when a physician refers a patient to a specialist. The obvious and logical answer proposed is to develop “Care Coordination Agreements” between primary care physicians and referring specialists, and the position paper takes 35 pages to explain why and how.
A simplified way of thinking about Care Coordination Agreements is that they recognize that coordination of care is a team sport, that specialists are part of the team, and that this paper proposes rules of the game about how primary care physicians and specialists should play together on behalf of their common patients.
However, there’s a great big CAVEAT buried in the position paper. I don’t doubt the earnestness of the authors, but I do take this caveat as a Freudian slip recognition that not all specialists will be eager to play on the team and to play by the rules:
At this time, implementation of the above principles within care coordination agreements represents an aspiration goal…
The care coordination agreements should be viewed solely as a means of specifying a set of expected working procedures agreed upon by the collaborating practices toward the goals of improved communication and care coordination — they are not legally enforceable agreements between the practices. [emphasis of “solely” is in the original document, not added]
Don’t expect to hold us accountable….and don’t expect to be able to sue us if we don’t get it right
Vince Kuraitis, JD, MBA is a health care consultant and primary author of the e-CareManagement blog where this post first appeared.
“Great companies have high cultures of accountability, it comes with this culture of criticism I was talking about before, and I think our culture is strong on that.” – Steve Ballmer
“I am responsible. Although I may not be able to prevent the worst from happening, I am responsible for my attitude toward the inevitable misfortunes that darken life. Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.” – Walter Anderson
“When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else.” – David Brin
Accountable care organizations (ACOs) are all the rage as the perfect tool to achieve our most important goal in present day American health care: decreasing per-capita cost and increasing quality at the same time. Just this week I am presenting on ACOs at a law firm conference co-sponsored by two state hospital associations and the MGMA in Minneapolis and at a hospital system board retreat in Pennsylvania. Everybody wants to know how to implement ACOs.
An essential ingredient in ACOs is accountability, and yet human beings are not always comfortable with being held accountable. The two blog posts I wrote on physician report cards generated a lot of comments both in favor and opposed to personal accountability. And yet we know that hospitals and physicians are going to have to change the way they utilize medical resources if we are to indeed decrease per-capita cost and increase quality. Hospitals account for 40% of the rise in health care costs. Physicians account for only 20% of total health care expenditures, but when they treat patients they control the use of hospitals, drugs, medical devices, and laboratory tests.
If we are to control health care costs, hospital admissions will have to go down and physicians will have to order fewer and less expensive tests and treatments than they do today.