A conversation with Ellen Schultz. How can we best commit to improving what’s vital in our local health care system? Commitment is will, resources, and time. Measuring can’t take more effort than improving. Engage people at the center: patients, clinicians, and the people that support them. Focus on relationships. Measure consistency and sustainability. As in any health effort – exercise weak muscles.
CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid)’s work on Value-Based Measures matters for patients and caregivers because we seek affordable, accessible, equitable, and effective medical care. Or in English: Transparent cost within my means, in a location I can reach, in a fair and unbiased manner, for care that is likely to move me and mine toward best health. We, patient/caregiver experts, need a seat at the tables of governance, design, operations, and learning in the medical industrial complex to advocate for that kind of care.
I sat in one such seat (ten of twenty members represented the patient perspective!) on a CMS TEP (Technical Expert Panel). Here’s a blog post I wrote about it Oct 2017 and here’s the associated final CMS report. As I wrote in that post, Payment for medical services is shifting from paying for volume (more visits, tests, visits, days = more money) to paying for value (quality of care). Makes sense. But what does value and quality of care mean? It means that physicians get paid an incentive (more money) for certain results (outcomes, process, actions). An example is readmission rates. If a physician’s patients are readmitted to a hospital after discharge more than most physicians, they don’t get the extra payment. There are roughly 1,000 of such quality measures. These quality measures are very important to us – people at the center of care (patients, caregivers, parents, direct care clinicians, and staff) – because measurement strongly influences people and organizations who get paid for medical services. Following the money doesn’t necessarily mean better medical care, better health for us, better relationships among our healthcare teams, or better work life for our health professional partners.
The Panel completed its work in July and CMS just published the final report from the Panel. We did good work, our recommendations were heard!
Important to us, People at the Center of Care, are the following recommendations:
- CMS should support measure developers, for example, by promoting the development of a toolkit to assist developers with patient and caregiver engagement. Companies and researchers that develop measures have just begun to learn how to engage patients and caregivers in the work of creating and testing quality measures. They need a roadmap (toolkit). The toolkit should include project planning that includes patient advisors, orientation for patient advisors, guides that researchers can use to recruit patient advisors, communication tools that patient advisors can understand and find.
- Patients and caregivers need to be engaged in all aspects of measure development from priority setting to reevaluation. Just like in any aspect of health care, patient and caregiver experts need a seat at the table of governance, design, testing, sharing and learning.
- Priorities for measures should be based on domains or conditions, not clinical settings or programs. Often measures are hospital-based or office-based. Yet, as patients and caregivers know, care occurs across settings and involves a team of professionals. The measures should reflect that span of care. For example, rather than developing measures intended for hospitals or eligible providers, CMS would focus instead on a clinical domain such as osteoarthritis. In targeting osteoarthritis holistically, CMS can develop measures that track patients across the continuum of care they receive for that condition—developing measures that assess performance among the primary care providers, radiologists, pathologists, rheumatologists, orthopedic surgeons, and other clinicians that might be involved in the treatment of that condition.
The good news is that CMS has already published Requests for Proposals (RFP) about including patient advisors in the measure development process. The bad news is that these RFPs do not expect patient experts to be paid for their work by measure developers. Currently, CMS expects that participants in Technical Expert Panels work pro bono or be subsidized by their employers. Measure development companies, academia, and national advocacy organizations willingly have their employees volunteer with CMS since they benefit from the networking connection, early intelligence, and addition to their resumes or websites. They are still paid their salary for the work. On the other hand, patient experts, included in measure development are usually not so employed and are not compensated for their time. This is not reasonable or equitable. Expertise has value and should be compensated. I am not paid for my work with CMS. I don’t care about padding my resume. I don’t need a better network – part of my value is my network. My time and skill are valuable. Oh well, one step at a time. PCORI gets it. We have more work to do with CMS.
I’m often asked about my take on patient engagement. These buzzwords are losing their meaning. Frankly, I find myself at a loss to answer, even though I say patient engagement is my passion. Engagement from whose point of view?
- A person engaged in their own health – Isn’t everyone engaged in their own health? My symptoms affect me. I’m in pain. I can’t function as I’d like to. I’m sad. I’m anxious. I react. I manage or I don’t. I can accept, deny, adapt. I suffer, I advocate, I overcome. Maybe it’s my parent’s health or my partner’s or my child’s It’s all engagement. I’m engaged in my own health. So maybe that’s not the question.
- A clinician engaged in their patients’ health. My neurologist said he’s an expert in what works related to treatments and therapeutics for populations of people with Multiple Sclerosis, but he doesn’t know crap about me and my life. He wants to learn about what’s important to me and about my basic habits and circumstances – transportation, finances, culture, and spiritual values, family, hobbies, exercise, diet…. He’s engaged in my health. What if it’s not about his engagement with me?
- A patient engaged by adhering to their clinicians’ prescriptions and medical plans. Certainly, a paternalistic and common view of engagement. I’m engaged when I follow all instructions whether I understand them, can afford them or can get to them. Wait, maybe it’s not about the patient-clinician relationship at all.
- Patients engaged in governance, design, operations, and learning about medical care delivery, policy, research, technology, and business. People at the center of care (patients, direct care clinicians, and the people that support them) sitting at decision and learning tables like boards, advisory councils, departmental meetings, product design sessions, insurance company business meetings.
The challenge of giving a serious nod to patient engagement is that few of us are really prepared for success. Being super engaged in my own health means that I’m the CEO of my health team and that I manage myself and my subcontractors well. It means that I have a care partner that can step in when I can’t – a succession plan. It means that I do everything I can to operate at peak performance. All while I’m sick or disabled:( The clinician engaged in their patients’ health means that they solicit and accept their patients’ expertise and they have the humility to accept how little expertise they have in non-drug, non-surgery treatment, or actually, much outside their specialty – like the reality of people’s day-to-day life challenges. Increasing patients’ engagement in governance, design, operations, and learning leads inevitably to pressure for transparent price lists before service, seamless transition from one setting or clinician to the next, on-demand self-scheduling, patient and clinician controlled health data sharing, access to and payment for non-drug, non-surgery treatments, funding research about outcomes that matter to people, and on and on.
I think we need to be more specific about what we mean by patient engagement. And be careful of what we wish for.