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Maryland results prove healthcare partnerships can improve care quality

June 4th, 2015

by Carmela Coyle

Collaboration and care coordination have been buzzwords for decades. But, until recently, those words were little more than rhetoric.

Now, with the nation's healthcare leaders laser-focused on value rather than volume, these admirable pursuits are transforming from ideas into action, as providers across the healthcare continuum reinvent the way they work together to succeed in the 21st century.

This is no accident. The shift from volume to value is occurring by design and through transformative national initiatives. Consider some the recent efforts from the federal government:

  • 50 percent of payments will be tied to these models by the end of 2018.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a goal of tying 90 percent of all traditional Medicare payments to quality or value by the end of 2018 through programs like Hospital Value Based Purchasing and the Hospital Readmissions Reduction programs.

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Of course, these initiatives serve the Triple Aim of healthcare--lower per capita costs, improved patient experience and healthier communities. And they're in line with the core mission of every healthcare organization in the nation, which is to care for those in need.

Somewhere along the line, too many healthcare providers lost sight of that mission, and of their patients. But there's no debate that how well we treat our patients will be the dominant factor in future success.

What does this mean for hospitals? Three main things.

First, the paradigm has shifted and the change from volume to value is irrevocable. Second, the people who benefit most from these changes are our patients, collectively. And third, that working together is not only necessary to succeed in this new environment, but is the right thing to do to make sure people receive the right care, at the right time, in the right setting.

In today's world of healthcare, hospital "discharges" are obsolete. In their place are warm handoffs, in which hospitals take extraordinary care to communicate patients' needs to whomever is responsible for their next steps. And these relationships are reciprocal: Long-term care facilities, home health providers and others are willing and eager to cooperate with hospitals like never before. They share hospitals' belief that the best care requires the expertise of all settings to work in concert.

Here in Maryland, operating under a unique agreement with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, hospitals have made great strides in the quality of care by fostering new and innovative partnerships. In the first year under this agreement, hospitals have:

  • Reduced the readmissions rate by 0.80 percent, faster than the nation as a whole
  • Reduced the cost of potentially avoidable utilization by nearly 7 percent
  • Reduced admissions from the emergency department by nearly 4 percent

This success was only possible because of collaboration among primary care physicians, long-term care facilities, home health operators and others. There is much experimentation around healthcare partnerships, but amid the uncertainty that comes with any new venture is a very inspiring idea--that different organizations, no matter where they sit along the care continuum, are committed to caring for the whole spectrum of their patients' needs.

Carmela Coyle is president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association

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