Get your seat on the accountable care bus!

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I just got back from the 2013 HIMSS show in New Orleans, and if there is one theme that resonated loud and clear from the show, it’s that accountable care is here to stay.  Note that I did not write that Accountable Care Organizations are here to stay, but rather that accountable care is here to stay.  As a concept and value driver, accountable care is going to dramatically shift how healthcare is delivered over the next five years.

At its very core, accountable care is about the shift from volume to value.  The days of simply performing medical procedures and receiving payment – regardless of outcome – are rapidly coming to an end.  In accountable care, payment and reimbursement will be connected to successful outcomes.  But how they will be connected, and the impact that on healthcare delivery, are two topics still very much open for debate.  ACOs are one way that accountable care will be delivered, but I fully expect that other business models will emerge that will enable organizations to better connect the cost and quality of care they deliver with patient outcomes.

With that in mind, permit me to share a few observations from HIMSS:

–          Accountable care is the new hard term to define.  In the famous 1964 Supreme Court case, Jacobellis v. Ohio, United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”  Similarly, everyone has an idea of what accountable care, but no two definitions are the same.  The conversation at HIMSS was largely around defining accountable care and the tools needed to deliver it.  Almost every vendor on the show was scrambling to reposition their existing products as a critical tool to deliver accountable care, while positioning their new products as key to making your practice/IDN/clinic accountable.

–          Patient Engagement is the one ring to rule them all.  Much of the IT conversation over the past three years has been focused on payers and providers.  At HIMSS this year, the conversation shifted to put more emphasis on the patient, because accountable care shifts the focus of care from treating illness to managing wellness.  In order to manage wellness, you need proactive tools to – among other things – remind patients to take their medicine, come in for routine testing, and collect data about their lifestyles.  It’s about making patients accountable for their health.  And it’s about giving providers the full patient picture to manage their care, not just what the provider sees in a short office visit.

–          Data doesn’t matter, but information does.  There is no question that we are awash in data in every aspect of our lives, and healthcare is no different.  Yet with all this big data being generated, the signal can get lost in the noise.  Many of the HIMSS education sessions focused on how to intelligently deploy analytic software in your care environment or billing center.  Solutions on the show floor offered tools to do everything from identifying which patients cost the most, to predicting which patients are more likely to boomerang back to the hospital, to optimizing the assignment of patients to hospital beds.

Without question, the HIMSS floor was buzzing this year, with a level of energy that reflects the dynamic period of change in healthcare today.  In my next post, I’ll share some insights into the new solutions that GE Healthcare is developing to our customers prepare for this new area of accountable care.  Till next time….

 

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