Public Policy

Medicare Initiatives Improve Hospital Care, Patient Safety


Medicare Initiatives Improve Hospital Care, Patient Safety


As a hospitalist myself, I have seen firsthand the need for a healthcare system that provides better care, spends dollars more wisely, and keeps people healthier. I practice on weekends taking care of children, many of whom have multiple chronic conditions and fragile social support, and their families. I love patient care; however, too many times, we hospitalists see patients whose fragmented care results in poor outcomes and repeated hospitalizations.

In my current role at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), I am pleased to see that Secretary Burwell is confronting these problems head on, with concrete goals for shifting the equation in how we pay for care. Specifically, we announced the goal of moving 30% of payments by 2016 into alternative payment models such as accountable care organizations (ACOs) or bundled payments, where the provider is accountable for total cost of care and quality. We set the goal of 50% of payments in these models by 2018. In 2011, Medicare had essentially zero payments in these models, but by 2014, we have reached 20% and growing in alternative payment models. Hospitalists can play a significant role in this healthcare transformation, and several initiatives in CMS’ Innovation Center, which I lead, are relevant to our work.

Recently, a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) report showed that an estimated 50,000 fewer patients died in hospitals, 1.3 million fewer adverse events and infections occurred, and approximately $12 billion in healthcare costs were saved as a result of a reduction in hospital-acquired conditions from 2010 to 2013. This progress toward a safer healthcare system occurred during a period of concerted attention directed by hospitals and hospitalists throughout the country at reducing adverse events. These efforts were also due in part to provisions of the Affordable Care Act such as Medicare payment incentives to improve the quality of care and the HHS Partnership for Patients initiative. The Partnership for Patients is a nationwide public-private collaboration that began in April 2011 with two main goals: Reduce preventable hospital-acquired conditions by 40% and 30-day readmissions by 20%. Since the Partnership for Patients was launched, the vast majority of U.S. hospitals and many other stakeholders have joined the collaborative effort and delivered results.

CMS is committed to making even greater progress toward keeping people as safe and healthy as possible. That is why we have launched a second round of Hospital Engagement Network (HEN) contracts to continue reducing preventable hospital-acquired conditions and readmissions. HEN funding will be available to award contracts to national, regional, or state hospital associations, large healthcare organizations, or national affinity organizations that will support hospitals in their efforts to reduce preventable hospital-acquired conditions and readmissions. In February, CMS posted a request for proposals for HEN contracts to continue the success achieved in improving patient safety.

The Partnership for Patients and HENs are just one part of an overall effort by HHS to deliver better care, spend dollars more wisely, and improve health. Initiatives like the Partnership for Patients, accountable care organizations, quality improvement organizations, and others have helped reduce hospital readmissions in Medicare by nearly 8% between January 2012 and December 2013—translating into 150,000 fewer readmissions. Hospitalists have played a major role in these improvements.

CMS is committed to making even greater progress toward keeping people as safe and healthy as possible. That is why we have launched a second round of Hospital Engagement Network (HEN) contracts to continue reducing preventable hospital-acquired conditions and readmissions.

On a broader front, CMS is taking action to improve healthcare so patients and their families can get the best care possible. To this end, CMS is focused on three key areas: (1) improving the way providers and hospitals are paid, (2) improving and innovating in care delivery, and (3) sharing information more broadly with providers and hospitals, consumers, and others to support better decisions.

When it comes to improving the way providers are paid, we want to reward value and care coordination—rather than volume and care duplication. We have over 25 payment and service delivery models at the CMS Innovation Center, but I will call out three that are particularly relevant to hospitalists. First, the ACO program is demonstrating positive results. Medicare has over 400 ACOs serving almost eight million beneficiaries. The Pioneer ACO program evaluation results demonstrated over $380 million in savings and improved quality—for example, improvement in 28 out of 33 quality measures, including patient experience of care. Based on these results, this model was the first from the CMS Innovation Center to be certified by the CMS actuary, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services announced her intent to expand the model components as a permanent part of the Medicare program through rulemaking. Second, in the Bundled Payments for Care Improvement model, we have thousands of providers (e.g. hospitals, physician groups) in phase 1 determining how they might improve care and considering taking on financial risk. The model includes acute and post-acute care, such as a 90-day episode for hip and knee replacement. We have 500 providers, and more that are willing to take on two-sided financial risk will likely be added in the next quarter. Hospitalists have a large role to play in improving quality and reducing costs in this model. Finally, the State Innovation Model is driving state and local change. In this model, we are funding and partnering with states on comprehensive delivery system reform. Seventeen states are implementing interventions, and 21 states and territories are designing their plans. The state is encouraged to partner with payers, providers, employers, public health entities, and others in the state to strive within the whole state population for better care, smarter spending, and healthier people. Many states are implementing payment models such as ACOs and bundled payments in Medicaid and with private payers. Increasingly, hospital medicine groups are going to value-based in the quality and efficiency of care delivery, both within the hospital walls and for episodes of care. This will entail stronger linkages and teamwork, both within the hospital and with clinicians in the community. It will also require a much stronger focus on predicting which patients are at risk of decompensation and delivering tailored interventions, including care management and technology to monitor patients in the home and other settings.

To improve care delivery, we are supporting providers to find new ways to coordinate and integrate care. For example, discharging a patient from the hospital without clear instructions on how to take care of themselves at home, when they should take their medicines, or when to check back in with the doctor can lead to an unnecessary readmission back into the hospital. This is especially true of individuals who have complex illnesses or diseases that may be more difficult to manage. We are supporting care improvement through a variety of channels, including facilitating hospitals and community groups teaming up to share best practices, and we applaud the Society of Hospital Medicine’s BOOST program, which is focused on peer mentoring and improvement.

Finally, as we look to improve the way information is distributed, we are working to create more transparency on the cost and quality of care, to bring electronic health information to inform care, and to bring the most recent scientific evidence to the point of care so we can bolster clinical decision making. Necessary information needs to be available to the treating physician and patients across settings. We must continue to improve the interoperability and usability of electronic health records so that they can enable improvement and care delivery.

I hope that as hospitalists you will take a closer look at the HHS initiatives I’ve described here—and others—and consider becoming a participant. Hospital medicine physicians are already leading many of these initiatives and are a positive force for health system transformation. As I look back on my last four-plus years at CMS (which sometimes feel like 30 years), I am amazed by how much progress we have made in improving the quality of care (e.g. over 95% of measures in CMS quality programs have improved over the last three years), spending dollars more wisely (e.g. lowest cost growth in the last four years in over 50 years), and improving the health of the nation (e.g. decreased smoking rates). Our nation is moving rapidly toward accountable, alternative payment models, including the recent legislation to “fix the SGR,” and I have seen hospitalists lead progress towards adopting these models nationally and locally. A challenge for all of us is to accelerate the pace of positive change and relentlessly pursue improved patient outcomes and a higher performing health system. But I know hospitalists are up to this challenge.

Thank you for all the work that you do every day on behalf of your patients and a better health system.

Dr. Conway is a hospitalist, CMS’ chief medical officer, and deputy administrator for innovation and quality. He is a former member of the SHM Public Policy Committee and a frequent speaker at SHM events.

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