ACOs: Millions of Web Hits…Dozens of Theories…One Bottom Line
In boardrooms around the country, health care executives are focusing on the technical requirements for their future ACO’s clinical and administrative systems. They are pouring over spreadsheets and attempting to understand the data and analytical tools that will be necessary for adequate financial and quality of care reporting. Getting these operational elements “right” is important; however, these business leaders should also focus on designing a culture – and the corresponding behaviors, communication, and incentives that will fuel strong and collaborative relationships between the ACO and its community of providers.
As Ed Brown, CEO of Iowa Clinic puts it, “People are unclear about what the value-based world looks like, and they’re unsettled on what clinical integration really means. And nobody has really made it work.” This lack of clarity around the value-based model will make it challenging for providers to leave the financial security blanket of the traditional fee-for-service payment engine. Moreover, influencing them to modify their approach to patient care for the benefit of the system and the promise of shared savings is a monumental effort. Success by any measure will largely depend on the trust established between providers and the ACO organization itself. ACO’s should prioritize establishing trust with providers in three key areas:
- ACO Operations and Management: Providers need to trust that the ACO is well run. Understanding the organizational governance, expertise of the management team and core capabilities (strategic assets) will help generate confidence that the ACO is well-positioned to generate enough shared savings to make participation worthwhile. In addition, it is critical that the ACO measure and report management performance metrics that demonstrate its accountability to the providers.
- Compensation Incentives: Providers need to trust that they are getting their fair distribution of shared savings. Clinical algorithms defining quality and outcomes must be evidence-based; and the financial tools and risk-adjustment methodologies used to distribute payment must be easy to understand. Above all, the organization’s compensation schemes must be highly transparent and accessible so that providers can validate that they are being treated as an equally valued business partner in the organization.
- Confidence in Provider Team: Providers need to trust their ACO provider colleagues. If the right incentives are in place to bring members within the organization together, providers will need to trust that their peers will also be active participants working toward fully coordinated care within the ACO. Under an accountabilities and outcomes-based model, it will be important that providers view their care responsibilities as extending beyond the encounter. Active provider participants should be practicing first-class follow-up care, improving patient satisfaction, and reducing re-admission rates which will achieve collective rewards.
The inclusion of ACOs as a provision of the Patient Protection and Affordability Act is a strategy to realign delivery systems in the US so that they provide high quality, coordinated care. The bottom line for achievement might simply boil down to whether providers can engage in meaningful and integrated relationships with the ACO and with each other. Since relationships are based on trust—predictability, integrity, and reciprocity–it is imperative that ACOs make trust a deliberate priority.
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