Best Practices: Improving Patient Outcomes and Costs in an ACO Through Comprehensive Medication Therapy Management

AUTHORS: Amanda Brummel, Adam Lustig, Kimberly Westrich, Michael A. Evans, Gary S. Plank, Jerry Penso, Robert W. Dubois



BACKGROUND: One of the most important and often overlooked challenges for accountable care organizations (ACOs) is ensuring the optimal use of pharmaceuticals, which can be accomplished by utilizing pharmacists’ skillsets and leveraging their full clinical expertise. Developing capabilities that support, monitor, and ensure appropriate medication use, efficacy, and safety is critical to achieving optimal patient outcomes and, ultimately, to an ACO’s success. The program described in this article highlights the best practices of Fairview Pharmacy Services’ Medication Therapy Management (MTM) program with additional thoughts and considerations on this and similar MTM programs provided by The Working Group on Optimizing Medication Therapy in Value-Based Healthcare.

PROGRAM DESCRIPTION: Fairview Pharmacy Services utilizes 23 MTM pharmacists (approximately 18 full-time equivalents) working in 30 locations, who conduct pharmacotherapy workups as part of the MTM services that Fairview provides. Pharmacists focus on patients in a comprehensive manner and assess all of their diseases and medications. Responsibilities include (a) identification of a patient’s drug-related needs with a commitment to meet those needs; (b) an assessment and confirmation that all of a patient’s drug therapy is appropriately indicated, effective and safe, and that the patient is compliant; (c) achievement of therapy outcomes and ensuring documentation of those outcomes; and (d) collaboration with all members of a patient’s care team.

OBSERVATIONS: Since 1998, pharmacists have cared for more than 20,000 patients and resolved more than 107,000 medication-related problems which, if left unresolved, could have led to hospital readmissions and emergency visits. Since becoming a Pioneer ACO, Fairview pharmacists have focused on the highest-risk members and have seen over 670 ACO patients, resolving over 2,780 medication-related problems. In terms of clinical outcomes, MTM contributed to optimal care in complex patients with diabetes. A review of 2007 data found that the percentage of diabetes patients optimally managed (as measured by a composite of hemoglobin A1c, low-density lipoprotein, blood pressure, aspirin use, and no smoking) was significantly higher for MTM patients (21% vs. 45%, P < 0.01). The Fairview MTM also showed a 12:1 return on investment (ROI) when comparing the overall health care costs of patients receiving MTM services with patients who did not receive those services. 

IMPLICATIONS: Developing an MTM program to manage and optimize pharmaceuticals will be a cornerstone to managing the health of a population. Important lessons have been learned that may be helpful to other health systems developing MTM programs. In an accountable care environment measuring the return on the investment of all care interventions, including MTM will be essential to maintain the program. The ACO will also have to be able to correctly identify which patients are candidates for MTM services and provide pharmacists with enough autonomy, including scheduling face-to-face interactions with patients and the ability to change prescriptions if necessary, to ensure that timely and effective care is delivered. In order for an ACO to deliver high quality patient-centered medication services, there must be clear lines of communication between providers, pharmacists, and the other care providers within the organization. Finally, a strong and visionary leader is critical to ensuring the success of an MTM program and ultimately the ACO itself.

RECOMMENDATIONS: While there is a plethora of literature touting the benefits of either in-person or telephonic-based MTM, there is little research to date that directly compares these 2 MTM delivery types. It is critical for research to address the direct and indirect costs associated with starting and maintaining an MTM program. Information such as technologies required to start a program and length of time until a program breaks even or meets a sufficient ROI can be helpful for health care providers in similar health systems pitching a similar type of program. Finally, there has yet to be significant empirical research into the cost savings of utilizing a pharmacist and MTM services associated with meeting quality and cost benchmarks in an accountable care payment arrangement.

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