Friday, November 13, 2015

Three Population Health Management Principles for Reconciling Quality-Based Pay for Performance and the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Writing in the New England Journal, Robert Berenson and Deborah Kay of the Urban Institute say a linchpin of Washington DC's pursuit of quality is a "policy overreach [that] could undermine the quest for higher-value health care."

Yikes.  The Disease Management Care Blog turns to population health management to ponder their unhappiness.

The authors' concern is over Medicare's "Physician Quality Reporting System" or "PQRS."  As the DMCB understands it, PQRS rewards (and penalizes) physicians for outcomes that are calculated from a set of quality "modifiers" that are submitted as part of the Medicare billing statement (an example can be found here).  The amount of money at stake is in the range of 1%-2% of the Medicare reimbursements.

Berensen and Kay point out that while the system has been ramping up over 6 years, 70% of Medicare participating physicians do not submit any modifiers.  In their opinion, that's because:

1) the loss of 1% of any payment is practically meaningless,

2) physicians distrust the metrics and

3) there is a fundamental disconnect between the modifiers and the complex world of clinical practice. 

As examples, radiologists are being dinged for total x-ray exposure while surgeons are being held accountable for pre-op antibiotic administration. While these and other quality measures are important, they fall far short of recognizing what keeps docs up at night, like reading the x-ray correctly and getting a patient through surgery and out of the hospital.

"Hear hear!" says the Disease Management Care Blog.  In the course of a normal day, it is job of doctors to do "doctor stuff" involving one patient at a time. 

But, you ask, isn't that contrary to being accountable to the health of populations? 

The DMCB doesn't think so, because state-of-the-art population health management (PHM) agrees that:

A. Physicians need to be immunized from disruptions their "customer facing" (i.e., the patient) activities.  Otherwise known as the doctor-patient relationship, that's the part of the health care system that relies on the seven or more years of undergraduate and graduate training that turns smart people into exquisitely trained physicians.  Let the doctors be doctors, says the DMCB, and let them worry about their patients.

B. High performing systems - as much as possible - need to be configured around those customer-facing activities, further enabling the doc to focus on the patient who is right here and right now. 

From time to time, PHM might have to intrude.  When it does, the DMCB suggests policymakers recognize that they should proceed:

1) only when it's really important

2) only infrequently and

3) whenever possible, when it reduces physician work by outsourcing (an example in primary care can be found here) those things that don't require the personal involvement of a doc.

It would seem that Medicare's PQRS failed to recognize the fundamentals.

Image fromWikipedia

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