Guest Column | January 5, 2012

Accountable Care: Let The Work Begin

By Whitney L.J. Howell

One of the hottest topics in the health sector today is accountable care. The premise seems simple: Providers and clinical settings of all types will closely collaborate and share responsibility for providing patient care. Implementation, however, can be challenging, according to many hospital leaders and industry experts.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released its final rule on accountable care organizations (ACOs) in October, detailing how its version of an ACO — the Medicare Shared Savings Plan — should be structured. If facilities choose to enroll in this program, they must offer services to at least 5,000 Medicare recipients for at least three years. Providers and clinical settings are also free to design and implement their own collaborative care model that uses a network of physicians and facilities to provide coordinated care.

Past attempts at managed care have failed, and there is still a chance the U.S. Supreme Court could declare ACOs unconstitutional. But that hasn't stopped some in healthcare from working toward more team-based care. They are advocates of a new form of healthcare — one that ultimately focuses on the health of the patient rather than the bottom line. They are betting that the changes that come with accountable care, repealed or not, will help to usher in and get providers comfortable with this more team-based approach.

"The path forward to accountable care seems brighter and more achievable to many health systems, community providers and small practices," said Justin Barnes, Vice President of Marketing, Industry, and Government Affairs at Greenway Medical Technologies Inc. "There is flexibility within creating a model for accountable care; and, with the final rule, many care providers are seeing that accountable care is the future of where healthcare is going."

Barnes was also central to the formation of the Accountable Care Community of Practice, a group of healthcare information technology providers committed to helping providers and facilities successfully design and implement either a formal ACO business model or less formal accountable care strategy. Although this care model is getting significant attention, Barnes said, much still needs to shake out before it can be declared a success. In the meantime, many providers are putting the pieces that will support it — healthcare IT, shared-risk plans and provider networks — in place.