Three months ago a post argued that America’s primary care associations, societies and membership groups have splintered into narrowly-focused specialties. Individually and together, they have proved unable to resist decades of assault on primary care by other health care interests. The article concluded that primary care needs a new, more inclusive organization focused on accumulating and leveraging the power required to influence policy in favor of primary care.
The intention was to strengthen rather than displace the 6 different societies – The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the American College of Physicians (ACP), the Society for General Internal Medicine (SGIM), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) – that currently divide primary care’s physician membership and dilute its influence. Instead, a new organization would convene and galvanize primary care physicians in ways that enhance their power. It would also reach out and embrace other primary care groups – e.g., mid-level clinicians and primary care practice organizations – adding heft and resources, and reflecting the fact that primary care is increasingly a team-based endeavor.
We came to believe that a single organization would not be serviceable. Feedback on the article suggested that several entities were necessary to achieve a workable design.
Last month The American College of Physicians (ACP) released a well-reasoned and thorough position paper, The Patient-Centered Medical Home Neighbor: The Interface of the Patient-Centered Medical Home with Specialty/Subspecialty Practices.
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.