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Sorry. Health Care Reform Can’t Wait for Quality Measures to Be Perfect

There’s a debate in the United States about whether the current measures of health care quality are adequate to support the movement away from fee-for-service toward value-based payment. Some providers advocate slowing or even halting payment reform efforts because they don’t believe that quality can be adequately measured to determine fair payment. Employers and other purchasers, however, strongly support the currently available quality measures used in payment reform efforts to reward higher-performing providers. So far, the Trump administration has not weighed in.

The four of us, leaders of organizations that represent large employers and other purchasers of health care, reject any delay in payment reform efforts for the following three reasons:

Even imperfect measurement and transparency accelerate quality improvement. One set of measures often questioned is the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s (AHRQ) Patient Safety Indicators (PSIs) used by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and others in value-based payment programs. These indicators measure surgical complications and errors in hospitals, which is critical given that one in four hospital admissions is estimated to result in an adverse event.

PSIs remain among the most evidence-based, well-tested, and validated quality measures available. CMS uses many in its value-based purchasing programs. Use and reporting of PSIs through AHRQ’s Medicare Patient Safety Monitoring System has measurably improved quality. For instance, CMS reported a reduction in inpatient venous thromboembolisms (VTEs) from 28,000 in 2010 to 16,000 in 2014, meaning that 12,000 fewer patients had potentially fatal blood clots in 2014.

In addition to using quality measures in payment programs and for quality improvement, making measures public is key to accelerating change. “If transparency were a medication, it would be a blockbuster,” concluded a multi-stakeholder roundtable convened by the National Patient Safety Foundation’s Lucian Leape Institute in 2015. The foundation’s report cited the Leapfrog Group’s first-ever reporting of early elective delivery rates by hospitals in 2010, which galvanized a cascade of efforts to curtail the problem and thus reduce maternal harms and neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) admissions. This was effective: The national mean of early elective deliveries declined from a rate of 17% to 2.8% in only five years.

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