Something is happening out there. Can you feel it?
It is like a small tremor before an earthquake or a brief lightning flash before a thunderstorm. It’s the signal that alerts us something is coming without indicating what it might be—ominous, promising, or revolutionary.
Our ossified, dysfunctional nonsystem of incentivizing the behavior of healthcare professionals gradually is eroding, even as the haves—the over-rewarded—cling to the past or rush to create the next procedure or modality to run by the insurance industry guardians of the dollar. The days of the system of paying for care in an a la carte manner—by the unit of the visit or performance of the procedure without consequence or reward for appropriate indications or demonstration of expected outcomes—clearly are numbered.
What will replace the current imperfect approach is not clear or perfect, but there are discernible, inexorable trends.
Performance Will Matter
Few sectors of our economy have been so devoid of standards—or, more to the point, of rewards for better service or outcomes—than healthcare.
Could you imagine paying the same for a 2008 Lexus as you would for a 1995 Toyota? Could you imagine a pricing system that couldn’t recognize or properly reward the difference between Motel 6 and the Ritz Carlton, excusing the inability to differentiate them by saying they both have beds, sheets, towels, and indoor plumbing? Today, the worst orthopedist in the country and the best are paid the same fee for a hip replacement—whether it’s indicated or not. Most patients or purchasers of healthcare have no way to know which is which.
Performance measurement and standards are here, and while imperfect and evolving, they will be with us throughout the rest of our professional careers. Whether you are in the “process” or “outcomes” camp, you and your institution will be measured. The carrot or the stick can take many forms.
Right now, it is much more than about just reporting. Disturbingly, only 30% of physicians have participated in the first round of the Physician Quality Reporting Initiative (PQRI). Look for Medicare to apply financial pressure on physicians who do not report.
On the hospital side, reporting has focused as much on embarrassment as anything. In April, every hospital received its mortality statistics for pneumonia from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). In July, these numbers will be made public. Look for a flurry of indignation and activity as hospitals try to regain the trust of their patients and assure them they indeed can manage something as basic to their core mission as pneumonia. SHM will be developing strategies to help hospitalists help their hospitals improve their performance.
Much has been made of paying for performance—and this may drive change at the hospital level. Yet, it is doubtful individual physicians will substantially change their work flow or processes, or purchase new systems for measurement, just to get an extra dollar or two for better glycemic control of their patients. What may carry more weight is if lack of performance means some physicians, or even hospitals, are restricted from performing certain procedures or caring for certain illnesses.
Bundling Episodes of Care
A move is afoot to change the unit of healthcare delivery. SHM has been in discussions with MedPAC, which advises CMS on changes to the reimbursement system, about aggregating a continuum of care as a “bundled” episode of care.