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Penalties Will Not Promote Participation In ACOs

As we get closer to January 2012, the originally scheduled implementation date for Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), the time has come to reexamine the showpiece of President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) of 2010.

The final rules for ACO’s are now scheduled for release on January 2012. The implementation was originally scheduled for January 2012. As the original rules are being studied and interpreted the program for ACOs implementation became more confusing. Dr. Don Berwick (CMS Director) has refused to discuss the final rules until they have been published in the Federal Register.

“The ACO program is based on the hubristic assumption that the federal government can design the best organizational structure for the delivery of care, foster its development, and control its operation for the entire country.

The federal government has big-footed health system reform. Although there is no one right way to organize care, the federal government (Dr. Don Berwick and President Obama) thinks it has found one—and exerts top-down, bureaucratic control through PPACA to implement it.”

ACOs are supposed to be organizations that improve coordinated care. If an ACO decreases the cost of care Read more »

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

Physician Pay For Performance: My 2008 Experience

It’s official. Happy has now earned his CMS physician  pay for performance PQRI Bonus for 2008, a direct deposit into Happy’s bank account. PQRI stands for Physician Quality Reporting Initiative.  How much was my PQRI Medicare pay for performance bonus for calendar year 2008? A $2,500 check written out directly to Happy by the  Medicare National Bank.  CMS gives a wonderful overview of the history of PQRI .  PQRI is the Medicare pay for performance program for physicians that was initiated by Congressional mandate in the latter half of 2007.   Doctors have an opportunity to earn back 2% of their gross Medicare collections (which the government calls a bonus but which I call legalized theft) by submitting a grotesque amount of quality performance paper work to the Medicare National Bank. It’s one giant PQRI guideline game.

PQRI reporting is currently voluntary, but legislation in future years will certainly mandate reductions in payment for not submitting data, all but making this program a punitive standard.  Many physicians failed to meet the requirements to get paid under CMS pay for performance program guidelines in the latter half of 2007, the first year for PQRI measures. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Happy Hospitalist Blog*

Attention Health Policy Makers: How To Win Docs And Influence Patients

carnegie_smallPretty much everyone agrees that we need to improve the quality of healthcare delivered to patients. We’ve all heard the frightening statistics from the Institute of Medicine about medical error rates – that as many as 98,000 patients die each year as a result of them – and we also know that the US spends about 33% more than most industrialized country on healthcare, without substantial improvements in outcomes.

However, a large number of quality improvement initiatives rely on additional rules, regulations, and penalties to inspire change (for example, decreasing Medicare payments to hospitals with higher readmission rates, and decreasing provider compensation based on quality indicators). Not only am I skeptical about this stick vs. carrot strategy, but I think it will further demoralize providers, pit key stakeholders against one another, and cause people to spend their energy figuring out how to game the system than do the right thing for patients.

There is a carrot approach that could theoretically result in a $757 billion savings/year that has not been fully explored – and I suggest that we take a look at it before we “release the hounds” on hospitals and providers in an attempt to improve healthcare quality.

I attended the Senate Finance Committee’s hearing on budget options for health care reform on February 25th. One of the potential areas of substantial cost savings identified by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is non evidence-based variations in practice patterns. In fact, at the recent Medicare Policy Summit, CBO staff identified this problem as one of the top three causes of rising healthcare costs. Just take a look at this map of variations of healthcare spending to get a feel for the local practice cultures that influence treatment choices and prices for those treatments. There seems to be no organizing principle at all.

Senator Baucus (Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee) appeared genuinely distressed about this situation and was unclear about the best way to incentivize (or penalize) doctors to make their care decisions more uniformly evidence-based. In my opinion, a “top down” approach will likely be received with mistrust and disgruntlement on the part of physicians. What the Senator needs to know is that there is a bottom up approach already in place that could provide a real win-win here.

Some 340 thousand physicians have access to a fully peer-reviewed, regularly updated decision-support tool (called “UpToDate“) online and on their PDAs. This virtual treatment guide has 3900 contributing authors and editors, and 120 million page views per year. The goal of the tool is to make specific recommendations for patient care based on the best available evidence. The content is monetized 100% through subscriptions – meaning there is no industry influence in the guidelines adopted. Science is carefully analyzed by the very top leaders in their respective fields, and care consensuses are reached – and updated as frequently as new evidence requires it.

Not only has this tool developed “cult status” among physicians – but some confess to being addicted to it, unwilling to practice medicine without it at their side for reference purposes. The brand is universally recognized for its quality and clinical excellence and is subscribed to by 88% of academic medical centers.

In addition, a recent study published in the International Journal of Medical Informatics found that there was a “dose response” relationship between use of the decision support tool and quality indicators, meaning that the more pages of the database that were accessed by physicians at participating hospitals, the better the patient outcomes (lower complication rates and better safety compliance), and shorter the lengths of stay.

So, we already have an online, evidence-based treatment support guide that many physicians know and respect. If improved quality measures are our goal, why not incentivize hospitals and providers to use UpToDate more regularly? A public-private partnership like this (where the government subsidizes subscriptions for hospitals, channels comparative clinical effectiveness research findings to UpToDate staff, and perhaps offers Medicare bonuses to hospitals and providers for UpToDate page views) could single handedly ensure that all clinicians are operating out of the same playbook (one that was created by a team of unbiased scientists in reviewing all available research). I believe that this might be the easiest, most palatable way to target the problem of inconsistent practice styles on a national level. And as Senator Baucus has noted – the potential savings associated with having all providers on the same practice “page” is on the order of $757 billion. And that’s real money.

I highly recommend a bottom up approach, not top down. That’s how you win docs and influence patients.

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