Section 6102(c) of the Affordable Care Act – Quality Assurance and Performance Improvement Program (or QAPI) requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services (as delegated to CMS) to, “establish and implement a quality assurance and performance improvement program …” and to, “…establish standards relating to quality assurance and performance improvement with respect to [nursing] facilities and provide technical assistance to facilities on the development of best practices in order to meet such standards.“
Last Friday CMS released a memorandum to state survey agency directors announcing the rollout of electronic assistance and compliance-oriented materials on the QAPI website. HHS/CMS has still not yet published the condition of participation regulation that will provide nursing facilities with compliance guidance (facilities were to have already been compliant in March of this year), but there already exists comparable regulations for other healthcare provider types that will serve as a template. Once that regulation is finally published nursing care providers will have one year to develop an acceptable QAPI plan.
QAPI compliance for nursing facilities is not entirely new. The nursing facility QAPI is based in part on existing Quality Assessment and Assurance (QA&A) regulations. However, the new planning and reporting provision significantly expands the level and scope of QAPI activities that nursing facilities must enact in order to ensure they continually identify and correct quality deficiencies as well as sustain performance improvement.
It is a tad ironic that in promoting a key differentiator between historic, traditional quality assurance – now being coupled with performance improvement – that while quality assurance is to be viewed as a requirement and reactive, performance improvement should be viewed as discretionary and proactive. Never mind that performance improvement is being mandated as part of the QAPI program. Sort of like being able to choose any whole number between zero and two, right?
Anyway, I really fear that for a lot of nursing facilities – particularly smaller and/or single site organizations – this requirement is going to sneak up on them. And the true impact of that reality will not just be the regulatory and economic consequences but the lost opportunity to utilize the QAPI process to drive better quality, higher safety and better outcomes – while lowering the overall cost of care.
There are two ways to view the new QAPI requirement: another onerous regulation designed to burden caregivers with unnecessary compliance requirements at additional cost; or an opportunity to sponsor and embrace a process that – if done strategically and conscientiously – should improve productivity and efficiency while strengthening market position based on quality and outcome characteristics.
So my counsel is don’t wait for the regulation to be promulgated. Start now to learn and understand the tools that have already been made available. CMS has stated that, once provided, the QAPI formal regulation will not contradict the materials that have already been developed and provided.
And for those organizations that are truly interested in taking a strategic approach to developing a continuous quality improvement system that has the complimentary advantage of combining regulatory compliance with value-driven financial performance, please review the white paper that I drafted with colleague Nathan Ives of StraegyDriven Consulting, Aligning Healthcare Organizations: Lessons in Improved Quality and Efficiency from the Nuclear Power Industry.