JMCP Key Subjects

Are ACOs Ready to be Accountable for Medication Use?

AUTHORS: Robert W. Dubois, Marv Feldman, Adam Lustig, Greg Kotzbauer, Jerry Penso, Scott D. Pope, Kimberly D. Westrich

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SUMMARY: BACKGROUND: Accountable care organizations (ACOs) have the potential to lower costs and improve quality through incentives and coordinated care. However, the design brings with it many new challenges. One such challenge is the optimal use of pharmaceuticals. Most ACOs have not yet focused on this integral facet of care, even though medications are a critical component to achieving the lower costs and improved quality that are anticipated with this new model. 
OBJECTIVE: To evaluate whether ACOs are prepared to maximize the value of medications for achieving quality benchmarks and cost offsets. 
METHODS: During the fall of 2012, an electronic readiness self-assessment was developed using a portion of the questions and question methodology from the National Survey of Accountable Care Organizations, along with original questions developed by the authors. The assessment was tested and subsequently revised based on feedback from pilot testing with 5 ACO representatives. The revised assessment was distributed via e-mail to a convenience sample (n=175) of ACO members of the American Medical Group Association, Brookings-Dartmouth ACO Learning Network, and Premier Healthcare Alliance. 
RESULTS: The self-assessment was completed by 46 ACO representatives (26% response rate). ACOs reported high readiness to manage medications in a few areas, such as transmitting prescriptions electronically (70%), being able to integrate medical and pharmacy data into a single database (54%), and having a formulary in place that encourages generic use when appropriate (50%). However, many areas have substantial room for improvement with few ACOs reporting high readiness. Some notable areas include being able to quantify the cost offsets and hence demonstrate the value of appropriate medication use (7%), notifying a physician when a prescription has been filled (9%), having protocols in place to avoid medication duplication and polypharmacy (17%), and having quality metrics in place for a broad diversity of conditions (22%).
CONCLUSIONS: Developing the capabilities to support, monitor, and ensure appropriate medication use will be critical to achieve optimal patient outcomes and ACO success. The ACOs surveyed have embarked upon an important journey towards this goal, but critical gaps remain before they can become fully accountable. While many of these organizations have begun adopting health information technologies that allow them to maximize the value of medications for achieving quality outcomes and cost offsets, a significant lag was identified in their inability to use these technologies to their full capacities. In order to provide further guidance, the authors have begun documenting case studies for public release that would provide ACOs with examples of how certain medication issues have been addressed by ACOs or relevant organizations. The authors hope that these case studies will help ACOs optimize the value of pharmaceuticals and achieve the “triple aim” of improving care, health, and cost.

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