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Tag: Quality

Health Insurance Exchanges Will Transform Health Care. Magically Increase Transparency. Improve Access. And Maybe Even Lower Costs. But Only if We Get it Right …

NPR ran a story recently about how some retailers are retooling efforts to appeal to consumers in light of increased competition, particularly from online vendors.

Many are striving to be more “customer friendly”; Kohl’s department store was mentioned for adopting a “no questions asked” return policy with the idea that customer loyalty could be enhanced as the retailer made itself easier to do business with.

Comparisons between health care and retail abound, and while we say it is ideal for the consumer experience to be the same in both industries, in fact they are much different. The gap between the two industries was well-illustrated in this video of a shopper in a grocery store. We see them at the counter having their items rung up. But they aren’t told the prices and when they are given the receipt at the end, they’re told the final amount due may actually differ from what they see on the receipt.

Let’s take the analogy a step further: what if the customer expected the same “no questions asked” return policy from Kohl’s? Or a money back guarantee? In health care, only recently has the federal government taken steps to impose financial penalties in instances of poor care (which is the health care system’s equivalent of a “return policy” from providers).

When our team was at Subimo we initially focused on cost and quality (outcomes) information on hospitals. It was clear that – for the same procedures – there were both low cost and high quality providers as well as high cost and poor quality providers. Our efforts with transparency were designed to help people sort through the information so they could make more informed decisions and understand what quality outcomes might mean to them. We knew there was much variation in outcomes with certain procedures (e.g. aortic aneurysm repair) and less variation with others (e.g. normal vaginal delivery). Helping people understand when a poor outcome was more likely to occur helped them with their decisions (and presumably made them better shoppers).

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Getting Quality Right: Exercise Due Caution When Grading Hospitals, Schools and Doctors

If Americans judged the quality of hospital care the way Newsweek judges high schools, we would soon be inundated with “charter hospitals” that only treat healthy patients.

As reported in The New York Times, thirty-seven of Newsweek’s top 50 high schools have selective admission standards, thereby enrolling the cream of the eighth grade crop. That means that when these high scoring eighth graders reach eleventh grade, they’ll be high scoring eleventh graders, helping the school move up the Newsweek rankings. These selective admission schools simply have to avoid screwing up their talented students.

That’s no way to determine how good a school is. The measure of a good education should be to assess how well students did in that school compared to how they would have been predicted to do if they had gone to other schools.

Imagine two liver transplant programs, one whose patients experience 90% survival in the year following their transplant and the other whose patients experience only a 75% survival rate. Based on that information, the former hospital looks like the place to go when your liver fails. But aren’t you curious about the kind of patients that receive care in these two hospitals? Wouldn’t you want to know whether that first hospital was padding its statistics by selectively transplanting relatively healthy patients?

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Building a Better Parkland

In recent years, Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas has faced intense media scrutiny and government investigations into patient safety lapses. As the hospital searches for a new CEO, the Dallas Morning News asked me and other experts to answer the question: “What kind of leader does Parkland need to emerge as a stronger public hospital?” Below is the column, re-used with the newspaper’s permission. While it is focused on one hospital, the themes apply broadly. The type of leader that I describe is needed throughout health care.

Public hospitals such as Parkland are a public trust, serving the community’s health needs by providing safe and effective care to a population that lacks alternatives.

Major shortcomings in the quality of care provided at Parkland have eroded that trust. Now trust must be restored. The community is counting on it. It’s literally a matter of life and death.

Parkland’s board is searching for a new CEO to lead this journey. The CEO’s task will not be easy: Resources are tight, resident supervision is insufficient, staff morale is low, systems need updating, and preventable harm is far too common.

History may provide some guidance. Historian Rufus Fears notes that great leaders – leaders who changed the world – have four attributes: a bedrock of values, a clear moral compass, a compelling vision and the ability to inspire others to make the vision happen. Parkland needs one of these great leaders.

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Can Quality Be on India’s Health Care Agenda? Should it Be?

Currently, India spends about $20 per person per year on healthcare and spending more once seemed like a peripheral concern, taking a back seat to basics like food and sanitation.  However, in the past decade, as the Indian economy has grown and wealth followed, Indians are increasingly demanding access to “high quality” healthcare.  But what does “high quality” mean for a country where a large proportion of the population still goes hungry?  Where access to sanitation is so spotty that the Supreme Court recently had to decree that every school should have a toilet?  What is “high quality” in a setting where so many basics have not been met?

It turns out that “high quality” may mean quite a lot, especially for the poor.  A few weeks ago I spent time in Delhi, meeting with the leadership of the Indian health ministry.  I talked to directors of new public medical schools and hospitals opening up around the country and I met with clinicians and healthcare administrators at both private and public hospitals.  An agenda focused on quality rang true with them in a way that surprised me.

The broad consensus among global health policy experts is that countries like India should focus on improving “access” to healthcare while high income countries can afford to focus on the “quality” of that care.  The argument goes that when the population doesn’t have access to basic healthcare, you don’t have the luxury to focus on quality.  This distinction between access and quality never made sense to me.  When I was a kid in Madhubani, a small town in in the poor state of Bihar, I remember the widespread impressions of our community hospital.  It was a state-run institution that my uncle, a physician, once described as a place where “you dare not go, because no one comes out alive”.

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Setting the Record Straight on Medicaid’s “Success”

In last Sunday’s New York Times, Paul Krugman extolled the virtues of Medicaid. Here are some excerpts from this astonishing column:

“Medicaid has been more successful at controlling costs than any other major part of the nation’s health care system.”

“How does Medicaid achieve these lower costs? Partly by having much lower administrative costs than private insurers.”

“Medicaid is much more effective at bargaining with the medical-industrial complex.”

“Consider, for example, drug prices. Last year a government study compared the prices that Medicaid paid for brand-name drugs with those paid by Medicare Part D — also a government program, but one run through private insurance companies, and explicitly forbidden from using its power in the market to bargain for lower prices. The conclusion: Medicaid pays almost a third less on average?”

In the days since this column was published, I have spoken with many experts on Medicaid who are uniformly appalled by it. While I may not reach the same audience as the New York Times (at least not yet!), I feel compelled to set the record straight on Medicaid’s “successes.”

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Patient Satisfaction: The New Rules of Engagement

Patient satisfaction has garnered new attention as an indicator of provider performance and an important dimension of value-based health care under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Defined in any number of ways, it is often publicly reported to help patients choose among health care providers.

This month, patient satisfaction takes on even greater importance as ACA provisions set to begin October 1, 2012, tie patient satisfaction to Medicare reimbursement, as measured by the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey. HCAHPS scores reflect patients’ perspectives on several aspects of care: communication with doctors and nurses, responsiveness of hospital staff, pain management, communication about medicines, discharge information, cleanliness of the hospital environment, and quietness of the hospital environment—and are estimated to place at risk an average of $500,000 to $850,000 annually per hospital.(1)There’s a lot riding on patients’ perceptions of the health care experience, our satisfaction with the care we receive. But what do we really know about patient satisfaction, its relationship to patient outcomes and cost—and just what is it we are rewarding?Continue reading…

Training Future Physicians in Safety and Quality

Nearly a year ago, one of my blog posts bemoaned a gap in our training of future physicians—a lack of training in the skills needed to lead projects in patient safety and quality improvement.

I wrote the post after speaking to a group of medical students who were energized about this area of work. Yet, as I reflected on the talk:

“I had to confront the sad reality that most of them will graduate ill-prepared to lead the improvements of quality and safety our health care system needs. They no doubt will know chemistry, biology and physiology, but they may not know about human factors, implementation science or performance measurement—the language of quality improvement. They will know orthopedics and genetics but they won’t know teamwork and systems engineering. They likely know about German scientist Rudolph Virchow, the father of cell theory, yet they do not know John Kotter, the father of change theory whose model for leading change is highly effective and widely used.”

So how can medical students, residents and fellows make quality improvement and patient safety a focus of their clinical careers? On Nov. 10, the Armstrong Institute and the American College of Medical Quality will be hosting the National Workshop on Quality for Medical Education—affordable and open to anyone—that focuses on how medical students, residents and fellows can integrate safety and quality into their clinical careers. What career paths exist? What tools and skills are needed to carry out this work, and where do you get them? What kinds of quality and safety projects are residents and students taking on?

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The Organic Medical Home

What comes to mind when you hear the term “medical home?”  Perhaps you favor the definition put forth by our government (AHRQ):

The medical home model holds promise as a way to improve health care in America by transforming how primary care is organized and delivered. Building on the work of a large and growing community, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) defines a medical home not simply as a place but as a model of the organization of primary care that delivers the core functions of primary health care.

1. Comprehensive care
2. Patient-centered
3. Coordinated care
4. Accessible services
5. Quality and Safety.

The presence of these five attributes to care should then constitute a medical home, right?  It depends on who you get your definition from.

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Dr. Yes

Last week I attended a conference on health policy at the University of Chicago, where I moderated a panel that examined implementation of the Affordable Care Act. For much of our time, the panel focused on Accountable Care Organizations. Panelists and attendees wondered whether ACOs would meet the same fate as Integrated Delivery Systems of the 1990s. Some in the audience mentioned that when it comes to integration, electronic medical records could be a game changer. EMRs could be used to monitor and reward cost saving decision making, for example. But most ACOs are still figuring out how to use EMRs for clinical decision making; their use in helping managerial decision making remains far off.

As more and more speakers expressed skepticism about the future of ACOs, a physician in the audience offered a truly fresh perspective, one that makes me feel much more optimistic. I never learned this physician’s name, so I will call him Dr. Yes. Before I summarize Dr. Yes’ argument, it is helpful to turn back the clock to the late 1990s, when IDSs were taking the health industry by storm. Perhaps the defining feature of IDSs in the 1990s was the integration of hospitals and primary care physician practices. This strategy failed in large part due to classic agency problems. In a nutshell, an agency relationship can fail because of incentive problems (the principal is unable to effectively motivate the agent) or selection problems (the principal employs the wrong type of agent.) IDSs suffered both. When hospitals acquired physician practices, they converted entrepreneurs into employees who resisted any kind of incentive payments. As employees, primary care physicians did not work as hard or show as much commitment to their practices. Moreover, those physicians most eager to give up their autonomy were those looking to dial down their practices and lead the “quiet life.” In these ways, IDSs experienced both incentive and selection problems, with devastating results.

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Transforming Care Through Transparency


By year’s end, the Department of Health and Human Services will announce plans for making its Physician Compare website into a consumer-friendly source of information for Medicare patients about the quality of care provided by doctors and other health care providers. In doing so, Physician Compare will take its place alongside Hospital Compare and more than 250 other websites that offer information about the quality and cost of health care. More importantly, perhaps, it will send an important signal that transparency in health care is the new normal.

To look at these 250-plus online reports is to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of the public reporting aspect of the transparency movement. Some make it easy for people to make choices among physicians and hospitals, and just as notably, let providers see where they fall short and need to improve care. But others ask too much, forcing users to sort through rows and rows of eye-glazing data and jargon that requires a medical degree to fathom.

The Affordable Care Act calls for Physician Compare to offer information about the quality of care, including what physicians and their practices did and the outcome for patients, as well as care coordination; efficiency and resource use; patient experience and engagement; and safety, effectiveness, and timeliness. That’s a lot of information, and it demonstrates the tall order facing the federal government to make the reports meaningful and accessible, so that physicians and patients will both be more apt to use them.Continue reading…

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