Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Demanding Medical Excellence: How Do Things Stand?

Disease Management Care Blog colleague Michael Millenson has written a book called Demanding Medical Excellence. Like many other insightful observers, he wrote that only a minority of care interventions are evidence-based and that it can take years for proven therapies to be mainstreamed in clinical practice. Practice variation is rampant, avoidable errors occur too often, patients are passive bystanders in their own care and the U.S. health care system is spending money like trial attorneys at an anti-tort reform political fundraiser.

What few realize is that Millenson was among the first to recognize these issues when he wrote his groundbreaking book over 15 years ago

And, you ask, how have things fared since then?

Millenson answers the question in this Health Affairs article with some good as well as some bad news.

The bad news is that the U.S. health care system pays little attention to the prescient insights of smart people like Michael Millenson. The DMCB shares his pain because many of the things it has blogged about have likewise been ignored by the health care system.  The DMCB spouse and most persons working inside the health care system are not surprised.
The good news is that, while it may have taken 15 years to address these issues, things, according to Mr. Millensen, are finally beginning to get better.

In his view, the long delay was due to the commercial insurers' unwillingness to give up on their misaligned payment systems that continued to reward preventable complications, prolonged hospitalizations and readmissions. 

This was finally overcome by the twin forces of public insurer activism and patient consumerism. . 

The former imposed no-pay for "never events," required computerized physician order entry (CPOE), promoted accountable care, introduced bundled payments, made physician quality reporting a reality, and reduced payment for hospital acquired conditions. The latter is now represented by internet-enabled consumers who can use their lap tops and handhelds to compare symptoms with other patients, assess treatment options and compare provider outcomes.

The result? According to Millenson, we're finally seeing a long-due "paradigm shift" that is leading to transparent measurement and meaningful rewarding of quality improvement, accountability, safety, quality and value. Providers who are unwilling or unable to participate are seeing their services commoditized.

The DMCB agrees and is reminded that, from time to time, government can be a force for good.
That being said, it was the managed care backlash of the 1990s that scuttled the commercial insurers' ability to implement many of their ideas that were eventually adopted by Medicare and Medicaid. 

What's more, federal policy doesn't necessarily automatically translate into win-win, higher quality, lower costs and no unintended consequences for never events (here), CPOE (here), accountable care (here), bundled payments (here) or physician quality reporting (here). 

It may take a few more years before we can know if Millenson can write a follow-on book titled Achieving Medical Excellence.

Image from Wikipedia

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