The central role for hospitalists within most ACOs is rooted in the reality that hospital care is the most expensive part of healthcare. Successfully implementing a plan to coordinate care and prevent hospital readmissions might not correlate directly with improved quality metrics, but it can lead to significant savings.
The diverse ACO models now being tested, however, could result in varying responsibilities for hospitalists, depending on the focal points of the sponsoring entities. After patients have been admitted to a hospital, for example, many hospitalists assume responsibility for managing inpatient care and the inpatient-outpatient handoff. A main goal of a physician-owned medical group, such as an independent practice association (IPA), by contrast, is to keep patients out of the hospital altogether, placing more of the focus on primary and specialty care. An IPA that forms an ACO, Muhlestein says, might hire its own hospitalists to monitor the care of patients in affiliated hospitals while using the association’s approach to limiting costs.
ACO participants also have varied widely in the effort expended to get up to speed. “Some people have said they haven’t had to make any major changes to their organization, while some people have had to drastically think how they provide care,” Muhlestein says. In general, many of the former have had the luxury of working within relatively integrated facilities and building upon existing frameworks, whereas many of the latter previously toiled away in silos and are now scrambling to establish more cohesive working relationships from scratch.
Though many ACOs have only limited data so far, Muhlestein says most are generally optimistic that their early results will be positive. Even so, Dr. Greeno says, he fully expects the Pioneer ACOs to produce the best results among the Medicare demonstration projects. Those organizations already have successful track records in managing patient populations, and the Pioneer model’s incentives are stronger because the groups are assuming more risk. If the Pioneer ACO results are eclipsed by those of the Shared Savings Program, he says, “I’d fall out of my chair.”
The Beth Israel Deaconess Physician Organization (BIDPO) now has four global payment contracts, including its Pioneer ACO arrangement with CMS that serves 33,000 beneficiaries in the Boston metropolitan region. “The decision-making around joining was a recognition that the fee-for-service model is highly dysfunctional,” says Richard Parker, MD, BIDPO’s medical director. “Our organization and our leadership believed that most of the country, both private payor and governmental payor, would be moving toward global payment and that it would be to our advantage to get in early.”
Despite the complicated rollout and delays in receiving Medicare data on patients from CMS, Dr. Parker says, the feedback from both providers and patients has been mostly positive. “I would say, anecdotally, that the doctors seem appreciative that we’re trying to fix some of these gaps in care that we all know have existed for some time,” he says. “And, anecdotally from the patients, we get appreciation that we’re trying to take better care of them.”
Chris Coleman, chief financial officer for Phoenix-based Banner Health Network, another Pioneer ACO participant, says the project fits in well with his company’s decision “to transform itself into more of a value-based, performance-based provider.” Banner’s ACO, which serves about 50,000 beneficiaries, is still setting up needed systems, including a consistent platform for electronic medical records throughout the entire provider network. Even during the building phase, however, Coleman says company officials have been pleasantly surprised by the ACO’s positive effect on utilization, patient care, and apparent savings.