Healthcare reform and the quality of care

September 29, 2010 at 11:01 AM Leave a comment


One of the most significant aspects of healthcare reform is its emphasis on improving the quality of care.  Many aspects of the law seek to improve the quality of care as a way of reducing cost.  The healthier we all are, the less we’ll spend on doctors and tests.  Now, if only the law could help every American lose 10 pounds!!  That would be the best ways to reduce the cost of care.

We cannot really discuss the quality of care until we know how to measure it.  There needs to be a consensus as to what constitutes good care.  The simpler these measures are to understand, the more providers and patients can focus on them and achieve success.

We also need a system for measuring the quality of care.  Quality measures also need to be simple so that they can be implemented and data collected cost effectively.  Of course, to do that, we need widespread use of electronic health records.

The U.S. government announced in February of 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The ARRA act included $19 billion under the portion of its HITECH Act to promote the adoption of Electronic Health Record (EHR) technology in healthcare. Starting in 2011, medical providers can receive up to $44,000 or more by demonstrating what has termed as “meaningful use” of certified EHR technology to be eligible for government funds. 

Back to healthcare reform — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).  To drive improved quality of care, PPACA requires the identification and publication of a core set of quality measures for Medicare and Medicaid adults.   PPACA also requires Medicaid to establish a quality measurement program. 

PPACA requires the integration of reporting on quality measures with reporting for the meaningful use of electronic health records.  By focusing on the effective use of EHRs with certain capabilities, the HITECH Act makes clear that the adoption of records is not a goal in itself:   it is the use of EHRs to achieve health and efficiency goals that matters.  HITECH’s incentives and assistance programs seek to improve the health of Americans and the performance of their health care system through “meaningful use” of EHRs to achieve five health care goals:

  • To improve the quality, safety, and efficiency of care while reducing disparities;
  • To engage patients and families in their care;
  • To promote public and population health;
  • To improve care coordination; and
  • To promote the privacy and security of EHRs.

In the context of the EHR incentive programs, “demonstrating meaningful use” is the key to receiving the incentive payments. It means meeting a series of objectives that make use of EHRs’ potential and related to the improvement of quality, efficiency and patient safety in the healthcare system through the use of certified EHR technology.

Stage 1, which begins in 2011, the criteria for meaningful use focus on electronically capturing health information in a coded format, using that information to track key clinical conditions, communicating that information for care coordination purposes, and initiating the reporting of clinical quality measures and public health information.

The final rule reflects significant changes to the proposed rule while retaining the intent and structure of the incentive programs.  Key provisions in the final rule include:  

  • For Stage 1, CMS’s proposed rule called on physicians and other eligible professionals to meet 25 objectives (23 for hospitals) in reporting their meaningful use of EHRs. The final rule divides the objectives into a “core” group of required objectives and a “menu set” of procedures from which providers can choose.  This “two track” approach ensures that the most basic elements of meaningful EHR use will be met by all providers qualifying for incentive payments, while at the same time allowing latitude in other areas to reflect providers’ varying needs and their individual paths to full EHR use.
  •  In line with recommendations of the Health Information Technology Policy Committee, the final rule includes the objective of providing patient-specific educational resources for both EPs and eligible hospitals and the objective of recording advance directives for eligible hospitals.

Healthcare reform will fund the implementation of medication management services by pharmacists.  Medication therapy management (MTM) is a partnership of the pharmacist, the patient or their caregiver and other health professionals that promotes the safe and effective use of medications and helps patients achieve the targeted outcomes from medication therapy.  MTM includes the analytical, consultative, educational and monitoring services provided by pharmacists to help consumers get the best results from medications through enhancing consumer understanding of medication therapy, increasing consumer adherence to medications, controlling costs, and preventing drug complications, conflicts, and interactions.

Healthcare reform requires the public reporting of physician performance on quality and patient-experience measures through a website that will be called Physician Compare.  What begins with the implementation of EHR and the development of quality measures that are evaluated through data supplied by the EHR ends in public reporting of the results.  This will enable patients and hospitals to work with the physicians that provide the highest quality of care.  While high-quality of care might cost more up front, the (hoped for) decrease in hospital readmissions, adverse events and co-morbidities will (hopefully) reduce costs in the long term.

Implications for Healthcare Manufacturers

The emphasis on quality measures will more and better opportunities for healthcare manufacturers to demonstrate how their products and applications drive improvements in the quality of care.  Such demonstrates need to be based on clinical data that demonstrate how the product or application performs compared to the quality measures that Medicaid and Medicare adopt.  Medical groups and hospitals will look to healthcare manufacturers and government agencies to provide data that cut across multiple settings of care.  However, the growing availability of sophisticated EHR systems could enable medical groups and hospitals to develop data that are specific to their own patient demographics and mix.  It is in the best interest of healthcare manufacturers and government agencies to help coordinate these efforts.  Healthcare manufacturers will be encouraged to develop data for patient niches so that they are ready to address data that medical groups and hospitals gather that might demonstrate different results than those generated by the healthcare manufacturers.

The government and healthcare community (ie, providers and payers) will develop the quality measures.  The medical groups, hospitals and other payers will implement the EHR systems required to collect data relevant to those measures.  There is an opportunity for healthcare manufacturers to play a role in connecting the two endpoints.  That is, healthcare manufacturers can develop algorithms for analyzing the data so that the results comply in an appropriate way with the outcomes measures that Medicare and Medicaid establish.

Today, retail pharmacies are a secondary or tertiary contact for those drug companies and medical device suppliers that distribute product through this channel.  The growing importance of MTM programs will increase the importance of retail pharmacies for select disease states (eg, hypertension, dyslipidemia, diabetes).   Healthcare manufacturers will need to develop programs at the corporate levels of the retail pharmacy companies as well as the neighborhood pharmacies to educate the pharmacists and encourage and support the appropriate implementation of the MTM programs.  More effective MTM programs will encourage therapy compliance and higher quality care.

As the above evaluation demonstrates, the ARRA and PPACA will provide numerous new avenues for healthcare manufacturers to work with physicians, hospitals and other providers to drive an improved level of care.  The time is now to plan for these initiatives and start their development.

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Entry filed under: Comparative Effectiveness Data, Electronic Health Records, Evidence Plans, Healthcare Economics, Healthcare Reform, Hospital Care, Lifecycle Management. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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