ACOs must be ready to manage populations with tech, staff

For accountable care organizations (ACO) to succeed in their goal of providing improved care at reduced cost, participants are being asked to use data to more effectively manage populations of patients. This means not only a shift in mindset for involved practices but also likely enhancements in technology and staffing to help make that happen.

For starters, practices that want to take part in ACOs should optimize their use of electronic health records to be much more than a repository of data, according to Physicians Practice. Practices that already have become accredited patient-centered medical homes will have an edge in this respect because they're already using EHRs to track, analyze and improve the health of patient populations, said family physician Dick Salmon, Cigna's national medical director who oversees its ACO program. Their EHR usage goes "beyond just documenting what happened with the patient visit," he added.

And using such data effectively will require additional patient outreach and monitoring, noted Richard Lopez, internist and chief medical officer at Atrius Health, an ACO in Massachusetts. Doing so could entail adding tasks for existing staff members, as well as hiring new employees. However, practices might want to consider hiring people without healthcare degrees to handle some phone follow-up, Salmon said.

Finally, meeting ACO cost and quality targets rely hugely on patients following their health providers' recommendations, such as to exercise or take their medication. To boost patient engagement, Lopes suggested ACO providers implement a patient portal in which patients can request prescriptions and appointments and view lab results and related material.

To learn more:
- read the article in Physicians Practice