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February 8, 2016

How Work Comp Can Outdo Group Health

Summary:

The shift to value-based healthcare creates staggering opportunities to cut workers' comp costs while improving outcomes for workers.

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We all know the current healthcare system in the U.S. delivers erratic quality at unsustainable, yet ever-increasing, costs. Workers’ compensation medical care is affected by those costs. 

A major shift in the health industry, value-based healthcare, will benefit workers’ compensation. Embracing selected new medical management methodologies put forth in value-based healthcare has the potential to be powerful.

Value-based healthcare means restructuring how medical care is organized, measured and reimbursed. It moves away from a supply-driven system organized around what physicians do to a patient-centered system organized around what patients need. The focus is shifted from volume and profitability to patient outcomes (quality care). When fully implemented, the overall impact will be nothing less than staggering.

Porter and Lee, healthcare industry strategists at Harvard, have described six value strategies necessary to achieve healthcare industry transformation. Many of the changes are now underway in ACOs (accountable care organizations) such as the Cleveland Clinic, proving the concept. These defined initiatives produce desired results—quality care at less cost. 

Six components of value-based healthcare

The following briefly describes the methodologies necessary to transform healthcare, according to Porter and Lee.

  1. Integrated practice units (IPUs)—meaning multiple specialists practice together, resulting in comprehensive and integrated medical care rather than fragmented, duplicated services
  1. Measure true outcomes and costs for every patientWhen outcomes are measured and reported publicly, providers are under pressure to improve. Fraud and self-dealing are reduced.
  1. Bundled paymentsPayment bundles are capitated single payments for all the patient’s needs during defined episodes of care, such as specific surgical procedures. Providers are rewarded for delivering quality while spending less.
  1. Integrate care delivery systemsServices are concentrated and integrated to eliminate fragmentation and to optimize the quality of care delivered at any given location.
  1.  Expand geographic reachCenters of excellence are developed where expertise is gained through higher volume of similar procedures.
  1.   Information technologyData mining powerfully enables the first five initiatives and informs services and decisions.

As Porter and Lee say, “Whether providers like it or not, healthcare is evolving from a proficiency-based art to a data-driven science, from freelance physicians to hospital-employed physicians, from one-size-fits-all community hospitals to vast hospital networks organized around centers of excellence.”

Value-based medical management in workers’ comp

The goal of value-based medical care is to enhance quality outcomes for patients (injured workers) while reducing costs. Focusing on quality (what the patient needs) actually reduces costs.

For group health, the measures are physical and philosophical, requiring widespread disruption in how services are organized, delivered and reimbursed. However, workers’ compensation payers can benefit by incorporating three of the six value measures into their medical management process now.

  1. Measure true outcomes and costs for every patient (the injured worker)

Physician performance is scored based on injured workers’ experience and outcomes along with cost. Providers who score poorly can be avoided.

  1. Bundle payments

Bundling is capitating payments for all the services required for procedures such as specific surgical procedures, including all associated pre-op and post-op care. The costs are kept in line because providers need to stay under the cap to be profitable. They also focus on quality, because re-dos, redundancy and complications add cost to the service bundle, thereby diminishing profits. Prepare to see bundled payment options available to workers’ compensation sooner rather than later.

  1. Information technology

The data in workers’ compensation, while in silos, is all organized around individual claims and injured workers. When the data is integrated at the claim level, patient experience, provider performance, outcome and cost analysis opportunities are unlimited. The more comprehensive and accurate the data, the greater the opportunity for gain.

Those who cling to traditional seat-of-the-pants medical management will be left behind. Those in group health may be hampered by slow regulatory change, organizational upheaval and resistant providers, while workers’ compensation payers are free to adopt transformative value measures now. Organizations that progress rapidly to implement the value agenda will reap huge benefits.

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About the Author

Karen Wolfe is founder, president and CEO of MedMetrics. She has been working in software design, development, data management and analysis specifically for the workers’ compensation industry for nearly 25 years. Wolfe’s background in healthcare, combined with her business and technology acumen, has resulted in unique expertise.

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