We talk a lot about value in healthcare these days. Most everyone in healthcare knows the infamous quality/cost equation: the lower the cost and the higher the quality, the higher the value. Seems like a pretty straightforward equation; there aren’t even any coefficients, factorials, exponents, or square roots. Just two simple terms: quality and cost. How complicated could that possibly be?
The problem with the value equation is not its complexity on paper but the reinforcing barriers in our healthcare system that have made it impossible to improve the value equation on a large scale. Despite millions of hard-working, well-intentioned people in the healthcare industry, quality continues to be variable at best, and cost continues to rise. Healthcare currently consumes nearly 18% of the U.S. gross domestic product, threatening other aspects of the American economy, notably education and other federally subsidized programs.
A series of articles published between The New England Journal of Medicine and the Harvard Business Review aims to discover and suggest solutions to the issues currently ailing the U.S. healthcare system.1 The first installment focused on how to improve value on a large scale. The authors discuss the major barriers to realizing the value equation, along with some propositions for overcoming these barriers on a large scale.2 Although all six barriers are extremely difficult to surmount, the authors argue that because they are all mutually reinforcing in the current state, all will need to be addressed swiftly, tenaciously, and simultaneously.
Outlined here is a summary of the proposed interventions, and how these can and will affect hospitalists.
Providers need to organize themselves around what patients need, instead of around what providers do and how they are reimbursed. This will entail a shift from individual, discrete services to comprehensive, patient-focused care of medical conditions. The authors term these “Integrated Practice Units (IPU),” in which an entire team of providers organize themselves around the patient’s disease and provide comprehensive care across the range of the severity of the disease and the locations in which that disease is best served.
For hospitalists, working in multidisciplinary teams will come as second nature, but this also will require hospitalists to enhance the flexibility with which they see the patients and provide services exactly as the patients need, rather than based on arbitrary schedules and conveniences. Many hospitalists are already involved in comprehensive specialty care of high-volume surgical conditions, such as total hip and total knee patients, who usually come with a relatively predictable set of co-morbid conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, rheumatologic disease, or sickle cell anemia. The literature has clearly established the fact that high-volume specialty care centers can and do deliver higher value care (higher quality at lower cost), compared to lower volume, less “well-oiled” centers.
Providers need transparent and readily available information on quality and cost to move the value equation. As we all know, you can’t improve what you don’t measure. Hospitalists need to work collaboratively with their hospital systems to collect and widely report on quality and cost metrics for the patients they serve. These quality metrics should not only focus on those process and outcome measures that must currently be reported (internally or externally); hospitalists should seek out the metrics that really matter to patients, such as achieving functional status (ambulating, eating, being pain free), shortening recovery time (getting back to work, playing with the grandchildren), and sustaining recovery for as long as possible (relapse, readmission, reoperation).