Whitney Palmer

Healthcare. Politics. Family.

Academic Medicine Explores ACO Model

Published in the December 2011 AAMC Reporter

By Whitney L.J. Howell

The release of the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) final rule on accountable care organizations (ACOs) in October is helping some AAMC members take a second look at ACOs. Experts are debating whether the final rule, which excludes indirect medical education payments from the shared-savings mix, will help academic medical centers embrace the ACO model.

In an ACO, a network of doctors and hospitals will share responsibility for providing patient care to a minimum of 5,000 Medicare beneficiaries for at least three years. CMS begins accepting applications for the Medicare Shared Savings program in January.

If the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the health reform law is unconstitutional, ACOs and shared savings could become irrelevant. However, many in academic medicine are proactively aligning resources to provide services in quality-focused, collaborative ways to control costs. For some, that means launching multi-disciplinary, patient-centered care centers. For others, changes include integrating health information technology or adding “total health” courses into curricula.

There is no cookie-cutter approach to adopting the ACO model. Academic medical centers must identify strategies that work best for them, but it will be challenging, said Scott Berkowitz, M.D., M.B.A., Johns Hopkins Medicine’s accountable care medical director.

“There will be cultural and financial obstacles,” he said. “But academic medical centers have a golden opportunity to create value in the post-reform era through providing exceptional patient-centered care, engaging in the science of care delivery to supplement more traditional research, and by educating the next generation of health care leaders.”

Johns Hopkins is still reviewing the Shared Savings program but has improved care quality in recent years through several initiatives. The institution expanded its community physician group to more than 250 doctors, including many to augment patient access to both preventive and follow-up care, Berkowitz said.

There are, however, academic leaders who doubt their centers can achieve the ACO model, said John Kastor, M.D., a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. In a February New England Journal of Medicine perspective, Kastor reported that of 37 senior faculty he surveyed nationwide, most believe the ACO structure will prevent care coordination and cost savings.

“Of the people I interviewed, none has figured out how to make this concept work at their center,” Kastor said. “Medical school deans and hospital CEOs often report to different people. Clinical departments tend to be in silos, and training students takes time. These issues will hamper an institution’s ability to form a successful ACO.”

Changing characteristics of teaching hospitals, including paring down didactic resources, to cut costs requires a significant culture shift, he said. But not all would be beneficial. According to AAMC, siphoning money from educational efforts to achieve savings—such as indirect medical education payments—undermines academic medicine’s tripartite mission.

“In our philosophy, these payments are for education and care of the uninsured,” said AAMC Chief Health Care Officer Joanne M. Conroy, M.D. “Excluding them from savings calculations prevents negative impacts on patients, and it stops any gutting of our care system or educational programs.”

However, the onus now weighs heavily on teaching hospitals and health systems to identify cost-saving strategies and demonstrate that they work.

“It’s still a tough road,” Conroy said. “It’s a complex rubric. Academic medical centers must drill down quickly to see what will be successful.”

For Greenville Hospital System University Medical Center in South Carolina, success is already here. According to chief medical officer Angelo Sinopoli, M.D., Greenville began working toward collaborative care nearly seven years ago and first tested the ACO model on its 17,000 employees. Using a $2.7 million Duke Endowment grant, the institution increased preventive care for employees and provided case managers for the sickest patients. The result was a 26 percent drop in emergency department visits and a 55 percent decrease in hospital stays.

The true key to success, Sinopoli said, was when hospital administrators offered on-site health care services to area businesses.

“It was part of our system change. We took our wellness programs to them,” he said. “Depending on the organization’s size, there is a nurse practitioner or physician there to provide a continuum of care, give high-risk patients health education, and eliminate social barriers to care.”

Having a Greenville-affiliated provider in the workplace gives patients more than the typical 20-minute doctor’s visit. They also have access to social workers, case managers, and practitioners who address their needs between appointments.

Achieving this goal was difficult. According to Sinopoli, Greenville faced two challenges when creating its collaborative-care environment. It took 10 years for physicians to embrace the model. The concept is foreign, he said, because physicians train as individuals and are not accustomed to working in teams.

The medical center also purchased health information technology to track accurate patient data, integrate it between sites, and make it readily available to providers. Along with an electronic health record system, the medical center installed a data warehouse so practitioners can mine existing data.

The institution is a newcomer to academic medicine, having joined South Carolina’s University HealthSystem Consortium in 2006, but it pivoted easily to train students about team-based care.

“Our curriculum and students are oriented to total health,” Sinopoli said. “Instead of teaching just the biochemistry of heart failure and what drugs treat it, our curriculum teaches how to coordinate care for a congestive heart failure patient and what resources and evidence-based practices can keep that patient from being readmitted.”

Greenville is still considering whether to apply for the Medicare Shared Savings program, he said. Regardless of the institution’s eventual route, Sinopoli said one thing is certain: Leaders in academic medicine must continuously promote culture change to create a true shift toward patient-centered care.

To read the article at its original location: https://www.aamc.org/newsroom/reporter/december2011/268852/aco.html

 

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December 12, 2011 - Posted by | Education, Healthcare | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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