Wednesday, February 3, 2016

An Update on the Evidence of the Impact of the Patient Centered Medical Home on Cost and Quality: Of Soup and Weather Vanes

In its work with a variety of payer and provider customers, the Population Health Blog has advised that primary care medical home planning is more "soup" than "soufflĂ©," and that outcomes are more a matter of direction than preciseness.  Naturally, the MBA-types that populate and advise the C-suites and Boards of our health institutions never liked hearing that, preferring instead to impose their notions of cookbook orderliness on what they disdain as inefficient.


Anyone who has had an underinsured patient in crisis in their clinic at 4 in the afternoon knows what the PHB is talking about.

Which is why the trained professionals who actually take care of primary care patients will find a lot to agree with in the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative's report on the Patient Centered Medical Home's Impact on Cost and Quality

This is a summary of the 30 recent peer-reviewed, state, industry or federal publications examining medical homes' impact on cost, utilization or quality.  There are pages of tables that conveniently describe the initiatives, the payment methodology, their impact on cost/utilization (mostly good), and the impact on other outcomes (mostly good).  To the PCPCC's credit, the review is free of the trade association-style framing that can obscure neutral assessments of the data; it even includes an entire section dedicated to study limitations.  Good for them.

Two PHB Insights
Soup: While often portrayed as a caveat, one of the major insights of the report is that the PCMH is best thought of as a "model" of care defined by a set of "attributes" that include patient-centeredness, comprehensiveness, coordination of care, accessibility and quality/safety.  Do right by adapting those principles into a clinic and, to paraphrase Justice Stewart, you'll know it when you see it.  Turning to the "soup" analogy, if it's liquid, there's stock, the ingredients are softened and the flavors have been extracted into a broth, you've got something that will satisfy. 

Let a thousand medical home clinics bloom.

Direction: Another major point of the review is that outcomes vary considerably, and not just in terms of dollar impacts, but on various measures of utilization and outcomes.  The insight here is that the "directionality" of this model of care is "pointing" toward lower overall costs with better clinical outcomes.  Unfortunately for administrators and insurers everywhere, the answer to "how much" is that "it depends." 

Fortunately for patients, the wind is blowing in the right direction

There are some other interesting take-aways. 

As "alternative payment models" (reminding the PHB to also use acronym "APMs" whenever possible) expand, the funding for PCMHs is likely to grow. The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (another acronym "MACRA") has fans in the PCMH community. 

$4.90 per patient per month is an average payment for medical home services, with dollar add-ons possible from various measures of performance, shared savings, care coordination, pre-payment and risk adjustment (see above on how "it depends"). 

Multi-payer collaboration convening commercial and government payers is more likely to have an impact on PCMH outcomes than single payer programs. Based on experience, this reminds the PHB of a similarity between the PHB spouse and Medicare: compromise is always possible so long as you do it her way.

Next Steps

The PHB couldn't have said it better.  Advocates for the PCMH need to continue to share their design and outcomes in the public square so that everyone can better understand its strengths as well as weaknesses and to make this soup even better.  As the report concludes

"Investment (ROI) or “total cost of care” research is needed that assesses the costs associated with PCMH transformation (or “upstream” spending) that results in “downstream” savings, through reduced ER visits or hospitalizations. This would demonstrate the extent to which spending on primary care results in long term ROI to the overall health system."

"As in past years, there was a dearth of studies that evaluated cost or utilization measures together with patient experience or provider satisfaction and health outcomes, essential elements of the Triple Aim. As we evaluate cost outcomes associated with the model, we must increasingly evaluate the model as a whole to ensure that cost savings and better patient care go hand in hand."

Soup and vane images are from Wikipedia

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