“ACO” may be a new term to many, but it is not new. Kaiser Permanente and HealthCare Partners Medical Group are examples of longstanding, successful ACOs.
You might be reading this and have arrived at the conclusion that Joe Li is convinced ACOs are the panacea for that ill known as the American healthcare system. That could not be further from the truth. I don’t think that the folks at Medicare are convinced, either. That is why there was a competitive process to select the 32 ACOs for this initiative. They chose provider groups that have experience working together. If ACOs are going to work, Medicare thinks these are the types of organizations that will be successful.
Interestingly, when one looks on the list of Pioneer participants, there are some notable absences. I don’t see Mayo Clinic or Cleveland Clinic. Hmmm. If these ACO “poster children” are not participating, should we? Perhaps they applied and HHS declined to accept their application, but I doubt it. These are the groups who already are ACOs. One can only assume that these organizations didn’t like the rules, or the financial rewards were not sufficiently attractive for them to participate.
Change Is Brewing
Regardless, the big question for hospitalists working in Pioneer groups is, How do we “succeed” in an ACO model? I believe that some of the same principles that allow hospitalists to succeed under the current model also apply under the ACO model. High-performing hospitalists and HM programs have:
Systems to monitor performance and provide feedback to providers with a plan for continuous quality improvement;
Established expectations for hospitalist communication with other providers, including PCPs, ED providers, subspecialists, nurses, and post-discharge care center facilities, among others; and
Multidisciplinary care teams providing evidence-based care with a focus on minimizing variations in care.
If ACOs are successful at providing high-quality care at lower costs, one could imagine changes to our healthcare system that will directly impact hospitalists. If ACOs are able to provide timely and comprehensive outpatient care, fewer patients will need care at acute-care hospitals. Efforts will be made to hospitalize patients at less-expensive community hospitals, instead of tertiary academic medical centers. The resultant smaller population of hospitalized patients will be sicker.
It’s not difficult to extrapolate on this new paradigm, as I can imagine hospitalists seeing fewer, sicker patients daily. These patients, as we all know, often require multiple visits per day. It is difficult to provide high-quality care to sick patients without doctors available in the hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All hospitalists will need the skills to attend to critically ill, hospitalized patients. Hospitalists—and perhaps hospitals, if they are part of the ACO—will focus less on patient length of stay and more on keeping patients out of the hospitals. The cost of an entire readmission dwarfs the cost of one additional day in the hospital.
If you are a hospitalist providing care in a Pioneer ACO, I would love to hear how your practice is changing. Send me an email at [email protected], or message me via Twitter (@JosephLi) or LinkedIn: Joseph Li.
Dr. Li is president of SHM.