When Barack Obama was merely a senator running for the White House, he told one physician association, “I support the concept of a patient-centered medical home” and would encourage the model if he ever became president.
Six years later: Mission accomplished.
Nearly 7,000 primary care practices have officially been accredited as PCMHs, and thousands of other providers have adopted some features of medical homes, which use a team-based approach to coordinated care. And while the movement toward medical homes might have evolved without Obama, his health reforms clearly laid the groundwork for rapid adoption.
The only problem? There’s still no clear evidence that the model even works.
A prominent Journal of the American Medical Association study last month found that after three years, one of the nation’s largest medical home pilots didn’t lead to lower costs or significantly higher care quality.
“There are folks who believe the medical home is a proven intervention that doesn’t even need to be tested or refined,” lead study author Mark Friedberg told the Wall Street Journal‘s Melinda Beck. “Our findings will hopefully change those views.”
An accompanying editorial also sounded caution. “It is time to replace enthusiasm and promotion with scientific rigor and prudence,” Thomas Schwenk wrote, “and to better understand what the PCMH is and is not.”
An often repeated saying in health care goes that patients lose about 80% of the information they heard during a doctor’s appointment by the time they reach the parking lot. It emphasizes that patients aren’t able to put followup care instructions into practice when they either forget or don’t comprehend what was said during a visit. Whatever the actual percentage might be, a guaranteed way to ensure that patients take home 0% of that information is to talk to them in a language they don’t understand.
Twenty percent of the United States population reported that they speak a language other than English at home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Many health care workers see limited English proficient patients every day, and within Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and Patient-Centered Medical Homes (PCMHs) it will be up to these workers to make sure that patients have the best health outcomes, no matter how high the language barriers are.
Today HealthEd Academy released the results of a survey that looked at the way non-MD health care professionals interact with their patients from multicultural backgrounds. The report examined responses from a survey of 192 health care extenders, which included nurses, social workers, pharmacists, patient educators, and more. One in five of those surveyed were part of an ACO or PCMH.
The respondents reported working with a huge array of languages. They were asked to name the most common languages spoken by their patient populations, and four out of 10 checked “other,” despite being able to choose from 10 languages identified by the Census Bureau as the most commonly spoken. Among the languages respondents wrote in were Arabic, Yiddish, several Indian/Pakistani languages, and sign language.
North Carolina Medicaid recently reported, for the third time, using a third consulting firm, the achievement of massive savings through its patient-centered medical home (PCMH) program, now called Community Care of North Carolina (CCNC). Among other things, CCNC pays the physicians more money in order to encourage and compensate behaviors and processes, including enhanced access to care and case management, to hopefully reduce the need for emergency and inpatient services. (A brief summary of this and past consulting reports appear in the current issue of Modern Health Care. http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20120218/MAGAZINE/302189938/1140)
However, the third time is not a charm. Notwithstanding these consultants’ reports — which paradoxically support my contrary conclusions by choosing to ignore the overwhelming data contradicting their own claims – the program is a total failure as far as reductions in cost and inpatient utilization are concerned.
Fact #1: According to the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) report to Congress http://www.macpac.gov/reports, North Carolina is by a significant margin the highest-cost state per capita in its region for adult and for child Medicaid spending. These are the two categories in which the PCMH has been in place the longest. In the “aged” category, in which PCMH had barely been started when the MACPAC data was compiled (and would not affect medical costs noticeably because the state is a “secondary payer” following Medicare, and most Medicaid “aged” spending is custodial anyway), North Carolina is the lowest cost state in the region.
The current reorganization of health care could make it better and cheaper for everyone, harnessing real creative and competitive energies to build the “next health care”—or it could lead to local monopolies, higher prices and less real competition where it matters. The many and various moves toward accountability, competition and transparency could defeat themselves.
The theme of the reorganization is clear: new types of cooperation between physicians, hospitals and other providers that cut down on duplication and unnecessary procedures and tests; that make the system accountable both for processes and outcomes; and that share economic risk among the providers. This new and strange cooperation comes in many types, typically labeled “accountable care organizations” (ACOs), “bundling,” “patient-centered medical homes” (PCMHs) and “co-management.”
All these concepts require new structures: complex organizational, contractual, reporting, liability and payment structures that in one way or another stretch across specialties and providers throughout whole regions. What could these new structures (particularly ACOs) look like if they were to turn evil? They could look like monopolies, like regional health care cartels, capable of forcing other providers into disadvantaged relationships and jacking up prices to health plans and employers.Continue reading…