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Cardiologists Not Needed: A Nurse And A Computer Will Do

Wait…

Before reading any further, I would like to issue a warning. If your ideas about healthcare delivery are of an older ilk; if you cling white-knuckled to past dogma, please stop reading now. What follows may cause your atria to fibrillate.

Last month I wrote that the best tool for treating atrial fibrillation (AF) was to give patients information—to teach them about their AF, its complications, role of lifestyle factors and the many treatment options. I didn’t say this was easy. In fact, thoroughly explaining AF takes nearly the same time it takes me to isolate the pulmonary veins–a lot longer than the 10 minutes allotted for a typical office visit. (Remember: of a 30 minute office visit, I have to review your chart, listen attentively to your story, examine you, and complete the e-record. That doesn’t leave much time for teaching.)

I was serious about the role of education in AF therapy, but I didn’t have any hard data to support such a bold claim. All I could offer was 15 years of experience on the front lines of treating AF—cardiology’s most expensive and prevalent disease.

But now I have found some real-world data to support the thesis that good teaching translates to better AF outcomes. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

Why Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) Will Not Solve Our Healthcare Cost Crisis

In 2009 President Obama stated that Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) were going to be pilot programs in real world settings. The goal was to see if they effective in reducing costs and increasing “quality of care.” The results of the pilot programs have not been published.

Last week despite the lack of proof of concept HHS and CMS announced new proposed regulations for ACOs.

The new delivery and payment model the agency estimates could serve up to 5 million Medicare beneficiaries through participating providers, and also potentially save the Medicare program as much as $960 million over three years.

How were these estimates derived? It could be another accounting  trick by President Obama’s administration.

The idea of coordinating care and developing systems of care is a great idea theoretically. From a practical standpoint, execution is very difficult.

I tried to execute something similar in 1996 with the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists; a national Independent Practice Association. AACECare received little cooperation or interest from Clinical Endocrinologists.

The problem is coordinated medical care is dependent on physicians cooperating and not competing with each other.  It also depends on  hospital systems developing an equitable partnership with physicians.

The equitable partnerships between hospital systems and physicians are difficult to achieve if past results are any indication of future results. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Repairing the Healthcare System*

In Brief: New Accountable Care Organization (ACO) Regulations

ACO regulations and related federal issuances hit the street last Thursday, after several months of waiting — from CMS, OIG, FTC, DOJ and IRS.  They cover the waterfront, ranging from the central regulation defining the structure and workings of the ACO, to  limited Stark self-referral ban and anti-kickback statute waivers in the fraud and abuse arena, to new frameworks for antitrust analysis, to rules governing joint ventures involving taxable and tax-exempt organizations.

I had the opportunity to discuss the regs the day after they were issued on a special edition of the Blog Talk Radio show, ACO Watch, hosted by Gregg Masters (@2healthguru).  Gregg’s guests included Mark Browne (@consultdoc), Vince Kuraitis (@VinceKuraitis), Jaan Sidorov (@DisMgtCareBlog) and yours truly (@healthblawg).  We are geographically diverse, and bring a variety of perspectives to the table.  I invite you have a listen — we enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the rules, we all learned from each other, and we hope you enjoy the conversation as well.  (It runs about 90 minutes.)

Update 4/5/2011: For a collection of ACO analyses curated by Anita Samarth see: http://bit.ly/ACO-Analyses.

Here are a few points to consider as part of a first look at the ACO rules:

1.    The rules were worth the wait.  There are a lot of moving parts to coordinate, and the multi-agency effort really came together.  The CMS rule also retains a fair amount of flexibility.  Some requirements are very specific, but others much less so.  (For one example of specific guidelines, take a look at the eight-part definition of patient-centeredness; an  organization must satisfy all eight in order to be an ACO.  Other requirements have no detail at all, and CMS will look to applicants to explain how they meet the requirements, without giving any hints.)

2.    This is the Frankenstein regulation:  A Medicare beneficiary must sit on the board of the ACO, CMS must approve all marketing materials before they are used ….  These requirements may be traced back to origins in CMS demonstration project and Medicare Advantage policies, respectively, and illustrate the way in which CMS took a short statute and really put some meat on the bones.  Some may balk at the weight of the requirements limiting the options of an ACO.

3.    CMS has bootstrapped a law aimed at ACOs serving at least 5,000 Medicare beneficiaries each into a system of rules that effectively requires that commercial business be handled in an ACO-like manner.  This, among other infrastructure requirements (e.g., 50% of ACO docs must be meaningful users of EHRs), leads to the conclusion that there will be relatively few ACOs, at least initially.  CMS estimates 75-150 nationwide.  There are, of course, many unanswered questions about what a commercial ACO would look like.  One model I am familiar with — here in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts — is the AQC, or Alternative Quality Contract offered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts to providers enrolled in its HMO Blue product.  One question is whether a slightly different financial model could apply to the commercial side of the house.  One model worth a close look is Jeff Goldsmith’s proposed ACO model, which would treat primary care, emergency and diagnostic care, and episodes of specialty care in three distinct ways.

In brief, Goldsmith recommends risk-adjusted capitation payments for primary care, fee-for-service payments for emergency care and diagnostic physician visits, and bundled severity-adjusted payments for episodes of specialty care.  Primary care would be provided through a patient-centered medical home model, which would likely have a collateral effect of reducing the total volume of emergency care and diagnostic physician visits.  Specialty care would be provided through “specialty care marts,” ideally more than one per specialty per market to maintain a little healthy competition.

A quick explanation of this approach to an intensivist over the weekend elicited a favorable response.

4.    Also in the bootstrapping department, CMS has shifted the ACO from a “shared savings” approach to having ACOs share risk as well as the upside.  Of course, this makes a lot of sense; a number of commentators, including the HealthBlawger, had lamented the fact that risk sharing was left out of the statute.  CMS has used its general waiver and demo authority under the ACA to move the ACO into risk sharing.  The ACO may choose: share risk from day one, and enjoy a potentially higher percentage of the upside, or defer the risk sharing to year three.

5.    The retrospective nature of patient attribution and savings calculations mean that each ACO must treat every Medicare fee-for-service patient as if he or she is “theirs.”  Patients have the right to decide whether they want their data shared with an ACO; if enough patients are spooked by health care data privacy and security issues, fewer and fewer will authorize the sharing from CMS to the ACO, and the ACO will have to drive by feel — or base its management of Medicare beneficiaries on its management of its general patient population.

6.    Organizations that dominate their local markets may be the most successful as ACOs, but they may face the most involved antitrust review at the hands of the FTC/DOJ.

7.    Scoring on 65 quality metrics in 5 domains will help determine the amount of any shared savings to be paid to an ACO.  One domain, patient experience of care, links up nicely with the patient-centeredness threshhold requirement noted above.  (For private sector attention to patient experience, see what the Leapfrog Group is doing in this domain, using some of the same measures.)  While some may bristle at the number of metrics, it is worth noting that these metrics are all drawn from existing sets of measures.

8.    All in all, the regulations represent the first stage of realizing the ACO vision expressed by Don Berwick last fall: there is a field open to experimentation (albeit a field likely limited to large networks of significant means that can underwrite the up-front infrastructure costs), and the ACO rules sketched out in the statute and further delineated in the regulations will enable CMS to incentivize the provider community to help achieve the triple aim of better care for individuals, better health for populations and reduced per-capita costs.

David Harlow
The Harlow Group LLC
Health Care Law and Consulting

*This blog post was originally published at HealthBlawg :: David Harlow's Health Care Law Blog*

When Money Isn’t Everything To Doctors

I recently pointed to a BMJ study concluding that pay for performance doesn’t seem to motivate doctors. It has been picking up steam in major media with TIME, for instance, saying: “Money isn’t everything, even to doctors.”

So much is riding on the concept of pay for performance, that it’s hard to fathom what other options there are should it fail. And there’s mounting evidence that it will.

Dr. Aaron Carroll, a pediatrician at the University of Indiana, and regular contributor to KevinMD.com, ponders the options. First he comments on why the performance incentives in the NHS failed:

Perhaps the doctors were already improving without the program. If that’s the case, though, then you don’t need economic incentives. It’s possible the incentives were too low. But I don’t think many will propose more than a 25 percent bonus. It’s also possible that the benchmarks which define success were too low and therefore didn’t improve outcomes. There’s no scientific reason to think that the recommendations weren’t appropriate, however. More likely, it’s what I’ve said before. Changing physician behavior is hard.

So if money can’t motivate doctors, what’s next? Physicians aren’t going to like what Dr. Carroll has to say. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at KevinMD.com*

11 Healthcare Predictions For 2011

Here are 11 things that are absolutely going to happen* in 2011 (they’re in no particular order….or are they?):

1.  There will be no big compromise between President Obama and the Republicans on healthcare reform. Why? Because the law is such a massive collection of, well, stuff, that it is pretty much impossible to find pieces of it that you could cut a deal on, even if you wanted to. And no, the federal district court decision on the individual mandate doesn’t change my mind…and in fact may breathe new life into other parts of the law). State governments, insurance companies, and private businesses have made all kinds of important and hard to reverse choices based on the law as is. There’s not much of an appetite outside of people trying to score political points for making big changes.

2. No major employer will drop their health benefits. No major employer is going to outsource their healthcare benefits to the government any time soon. Employers — particularly the big self-insured employers that pay for healthcare costs as a bottom-line expense — see their benefits as an integral part of their business and competitive strategies. As Congress looks at this issue more closely, they will learn this.

3. Time that doctors spend with patients will be less in 2011 than earlier years. It’s a long-term trend, and the factors that create this problem aren’t getting better. The latest government data show that the average doctor visit features face to face time with the patient of 15 minutes or less. With an aging population, increasing numbers of people getting health insurance, and no influx of new doctors, this problem will keep getting worse. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*

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