Does Measuring Quality Drive Value?

businesswoman drawing diagrams on wallThe Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services today announced release of the 2015 Impact Assessment of Quality Measures Report. Designed to relate the performance on quality measures over time, it includes research on 25 quality programs and hundreds of quality measures from 2006 to 2013.

Key findings of the report include:

Overall quality measurement results demonstrate significant improvement over time.

Race and ethnicity disparities present in 2006 were less evident in 2012.

Provider performance on CMS measures related to heart and surgical care saved lives and averted infections.

CMS quality measures impact patients beyond the Medicare population.

CMS quality measures support the aims of the National Quality Strategy (NQS) and CMS Quality Strategy.

There is an old management adage that goes, “what cannot be measured cannot be managed.” It is from this vantage that CMS advocates for the role quality measurement plays in achieving the desired goals of improved access, better outcomes and lower cost (the infamous Triple Aim liberally interpreted by me). While the data may support improvement in performance indicators, that does not necessarily translate into value.

And value is (or ought to be) the universal currency of the Triple Aim

Recall, I have shared here often that value in healthcare is defined as outcomes divided by cost – and that measuring outcomes is a bit like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. Measuring and reporting on quality in other industries has proven to be a useful endeavor that underpins market efficiencies. It’s not the availability and use of information derived from such endeavors that I wonder about – but who uses it and how.

Consumers that are armed with information on product and service quality from organizations like Consumer Reports are better able to navigate the value paradigm and reconcile their wants and needs against affordability. But in healthcare, consumers (patients) largely still don’t get to do that regardless of how much Big Data is collected, analyzed and reported on by CMS.

Will future efforts to capture all of the nuances that influence how individuals determine the value of an outcome ever be adequately captured by Big Data analytics in a fashion that such knowledge can supplant the simple effectiveness of personal decision making in a free market? CMS is banking on it.

What say you?

Cheers,
  ~ Sparky

More to Learn Than Fear From Ebola

ebolaEbola is scary. Though I try to allay my fears with practicality and common sense, I am – like many Americans – very concerned. The unknown is always scary. I wanted to start with that assertion to place the rest of my observations in context.

We will, I expect, ultimately pull through this latest threat to our lives better than our current fears would predict. Assuming we do, when the dust settles and the national media moves on to cover the next threat to our lives we are going to be left with some very useful case studies that we (hopefully) can use to assess how and why the healthcare industry continues to be unable to effectively embrace and utilize quality process improvement.

Of course, we will have to get past the blame game, name-calling and talking heads wanting to put the fault upon political philosophy rather than where it rightly belongs: the human beings that are involved in the promulgation of guidelines and regulations, the implementation of guidelines and regulations and the adherence to guidelines and regulations.

Already today pointed fingers are flying around Dallas like roof shingles might during a Texas size tornado. Texas Presbyterian hospital administration is accusing the media of sensationalism (go figure). A nurses union is blaming the hospital for not protecting its workers. The CDC blamed – then didn’t – the hospital for not following protocols and guidelines. How George Bush is avoiding blame down there I can’t figure.

Finger pointing in times of crisis is an innately human characteristic that only few people can avoid. Those folks that do avoid it tend to make very good leaders, and unfortunately apparently have an abhorrence for public office. But in a very real sense the finger pointing underscores how far the US healthcare delivery system has to go to change the systemic cultural aspects that impede progress toward quality improvement.

As I have shared in this space before, my colleague Nathan Ives and I wrote a white paper a while back: Aligning Healthcare Organizations: Lessons in Improved Quality and Efficiency from the Nuclear Power Industry. I believe it is informative and particularly relevant today to compare the relative safety records of both the nuclear power and airline industry safety records to healthcare. The potential wide scale impact of an epidemic raises our collective consciousness to view healthcare safety on a par with tragedies in those other industries in a way that one death at a time simply does not, however right or wrong that may be.

Though somewhat dated, there was an interesting journal article written in the December 2003 issue of Quality and Safety in the Healthcare: Applying the lessons of high risk industries to health care. In it the author notes the exemplary safety performance achieved in the oil and gas and aviation industries. And then examines why healthcare – an industry with comparable high risks – has not done nearly as well.

As the author notes, “health care has always taken medical dangers seriously, so the culture cannot be pathological. The lack of systemic risk management suggests that the culture is, at best, reactive, even though there may be the occasional proactive area.” Though we have seen the industry try and address these inherent cultural differences over the past decade since this research was conducted, we only need to look at the flying fingers in Dallas to realize not much progress has been made.

Organizational process improvement leading to the type of sustainable quality and safety that has been achieved in other industries and disciplines cannot and will not be achieved through regulatory compliance alone. It requires a paradigm shift in the thinking and attitudes of healthcare industry participants who have been effectively able to resist change for a long time. If you are looking for a silver lining in this scary period we are living through, it could be that Ebola accelerates that paradigm shift. I do believe we have more to learn than to fear.

Cheers,
  ~ Sparky

P.S. See you at the LeadingAge Conference in Nashville! We’ll be in booth 1829.

QAPI From the Front Lines

One person lifts the word Compliant and others are crushed by non-compliance, as the winner follows This is the PolicyPub’s first post by a contributing author. I have recently written on the upcoming QAPI mandate included in the Affordable Care Act and the impact that will have on nursing homes – particularly those unprepared (which I am coming to realize appears to be the majority).

I am thrilled to have my Artower colleague, Terri Durkin Williams, R.N., L.N.H.A., share her practical experiences with QAPI.

The Nursing Home industry is being challenged to develop quality programs that consistently maintain regulatory compliance. This shift in continuous improvement will require organizations to self-assess their operational performance. In turn, this will move organizations from the established routine of monitoring systems to self-assessments.

The federal government has mandated a Quality Assurance and Performance Improvement QAPI standard under the Affordable Care Act. This mandate was to be established and implemented in nursing facilities by December 31, 2011. As yet, regulations implementing the QAPI program have not been released by CMS.

The purpose of the QAPI program is to develop best practice in providing services and care to nursing home residents. This should be the mission of all health care providers. Waiting for the government to lead us in our business is jeopardizing organization survival both financially and in the delivery of services and care.

QAPI is not a new concept: it has been widely used in healthcare organizations for quite some time. The nuclear power industry has embraced this process to assure quality controls, safety, maintain regulatory requirements, increase efficiency and enhance the reputation of individual power plants. Achieving these goals requires a significant commitment of organizational time and personnel.

Given the tremendous cost pressures and narrowing reimbursement, however, management often judges such commitment as an unaffordable expense. The tendency is to not proceed with an in-depth evaluation of organizational functions. This is too often unfortunate short-sightedness of executive management. It leads to undesired consequences such as, poor care resulting in litigation, staffing turn-over, declining census, fines due to regulatory deficiencies, dissatisfied customers and increase in regulatory over-sight to just mention a few potential outcomes.

A common current practice in quality assurance programs is to monitor a task that is being performed by personnel. The evaluator observes the personnel and uses a check list to determine if the standard being monitored is compliant. The pitfalls of this approach include:

  • Observers not being trained in a manner that results in the consistent application of standards used to perform the evaluation; i.e., the evaluation is based on the observer’s personal biases;
  • Personnel performing to the standard while being observed;
  • Personnel documenting what is required, but not assuring that care was delivered according to the established standard;
  • Monitoring as a snapshot observation; it does not tell the entire story;
  • Organizations using limited information that is gathered in the monitoring process to determine compliancy – this can give a false sense of success and prevent the exploration of best practices
  • Monitoring that  does not guide the organization to the root cause(s) of problems, does not allow for personnel to explain their performance and fails to obtain what knowledge the personnel have of the standard being monitored:

  • limits the beneficial involvement of all personnel in the process;
  • is often viewed by personnel as a punitive measure; and
  • creates a disconnect in communication throughout the entire organization.

Poor preforming organizations tend not to take time to complete a comprehensive assessment of their operational issues and challenges. They may feel that they do not have time for a comprehensive assessment. This causes them to guess at what the problem is and just perpetuates a poor practice.

Example Case
I was recently involved working with an 84-bed nursing home that had seven (7) “immediate jeopardy’s” for a period of six and a half months. Their approach to quality assurance was to have nursing managers spend several hours a day monitoring and documenting problems. But there was no understanding of the root cause(s) of those problems. They received fines from CMS of over a half million dollars. This organization would have benefited from a self-assessment program.

The alternative to this chaos is planning for cultural change that will lead to best practices. The embracement of the self-assessments program exemplifies this and is characterized by the following:

  • Supported by organizational leadership;
  • Involvement of personnel at all levels within the organization to promote professional growth;
  • Effective and efficient communication – a team working together and respecting each other;
  • Focus on evaluating the most important aspects of the people, process, and technology;
  • Comprehensive understanding based upon a collection of observations, record reviews, personnel interviews, benchmarking data, and other ongoing assessment information measured against specific criteria;
  • Identification of performance deficiencies and potential causes, organizational strengths and weaknesses and opportunities for improvement
  • Evaluates performance against established best practices;
  • Provides opportunities to change the culture of the organization;
  • Stabilizes daily operations, by consist expectations, policies and procedures and
  • Establishes a culture whereby organizations control their business activities based on mission and purpose.

Key components of a successful self-assessment program include:

  • Executive management and board leadership’s passion for excellence;
  • Identification of an individual that is supported by leadership as the Team Leader in championing the Art of Quality.
  • Entire self-assessment team educated on the organization’s mission and leadership’s expectations – and they are accountable for their actions;
  • Defined sequence of the self-assessment process;
  • Evidence based standards;
  • Requisite IT support that facilitates the collection of relevant data, analyzes information and provides benchmarking; and
  • An ability to have fun, learn and celebrate successes.

To explore how your organization can implement Artower’s EviQual™ Self-Assessment Program using evidence based practice contact me at twilliams@artoweradvisory.com or 216.244.2923.

  ~ Terri

The Virginia Mason Experience

Prospering by Standardizing Processes and Improving the Patient Experience by Andis Robeznieks, Modern Healthcare.

Dr. Gary Kaplan, chairman and CEO of the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle Washington was recently interviewed about his experience of integrating Lean manufacturing process improvement at VMMC. Paul Plsek, a management consultant, has also written a new book about that experience: Accelerating Health Care Transformation with Lean and Innovation: The Virginia Mason Experience.

Below are a few excerpts from the interview:

On Organizational Change Management
Change is very, very hard in healthcare. We have learned a lot about change management. Not everybody wanted to come along. There were perhaps 10% who were early adopters, 10% who were very resistant to any kind of change and probably 80% of the people—and I’m talking about physicians, nurses and others—in the middle, just sort of saying we’ll see what happens and this too will pass.

I think we surprised people with our perseverance. Today, we’re possibly the furthest along of anybody in healthcare who’s consciously deployed a management method for more than a decade. But the most significant accomplishment is understanding that the pathway to improving quality and safety is the same pathway to lowering cost, and that involves relentlessly taking waste and unnecessary variability out of our processes. This creates a much higher quality, better patient experience.

It creates an opportunity for people to be empowered to use their best thinking to redesign their work. Our staff, who are closest to the work, are the ones who redesigned the work and in so doing reduced the burden of work.

On Physician Resistance
Traditionally, physician autonomy has been thought to be the sine qua non of professionalism, and that only we know what’s in the best interests of our patients. At Virginia Mason, we’ve been able to move from that approach and we understand that healthcare is impeded, not facilitated, by the notion of physician autonomy. Our physicians are actively engaged in supply-chain initiatives that standardize prostheses. One of our early rapid-cycle improvement events in 2001 was standardizing laparoscopic cholecystectomy trays, enabling us to save $700-$800 for every case by getting all the surgeons to realize that customized setups were unnecessary. We found is that if we eliminated nonvalue-added variation, the result is we create time for the value-added variation that differentiates individual physicians from each other and for patient preferences.

On Measurable Improvement
One of the things I’m most proud of is we’re the only hospital in the U.S. to be named by Leapfrog a top hospital in every year that designation has been given. We reduced cumulative nurse walking distance in the hospital by 750 miles per day, which freed up more than 250 hours of time for direct patient care.

On Measuring Outcomes
Outcomes measures have eluded us in healthcare for a long time. We’re getting better, but it’s a challenge. The entire continuum of care is a challenge to measure, given that we have patients coming in for care from Alaska, Montana and across Washington state, and Walmart and the Pacific Business Group on Health send patients here for heart and spine and total joint care. So it becomes quite difficult at times to measure the entire continuum of care.
One of the interesting things we’ve learned is that standardizing processes is really important even when there is no incontrovertible double-blinded study evidence. The standardization in itself allows us to measure and then it allows us to eliminate defect-prone situations. If a team of people do things nine different ways, that creates opportunities for defects to occur, and that’s what we want to eliminate.

On the Impact of Healthcare Reform
We welcome the changes that are here and are coming. More transparency is critical, and it plays right to our sweet spot. If we are able to improve quality and safety and lower costs, that’s going to allow us to succeed in a marketplace that’s more driven by value than volume. We see reform as a catalyst to accelerate our work, and it’s going to help move the entire industry in ways that will improve quality and lower cost.

Policy Issue
VMMC’s process improvement initiative was launched before and thus independent of the influences of the Affordable Care Act. But of course it was not launched in a free market vacuum independent of industry regulatory influences. Dr. Kaplan welcomes the future impact of healthcare reform as an inducement – or at least catalyst – for change at healthcare organizations that don’t have the predisposed wherewith all to affect the kinds of change accomplished at VMMC.

Others are going to disagree. They will argue that innovation and performance improvement flourish best when individuals’ inherent incentives to act in their best interests are rewarded by market-driven rewards. But is that even remotely possible to achieve in an industry that is already so heavily regulated that market-driven incentives are but a myth that stand in the way of collaboration and coordination?

Cheers,
  Sparky

QAPI ~ Ready (or Not?)

2013-01-09_14251sI have been receiving a fair amount of anecdotal intelligence that many post-acute/long-term care providers are not at all prepared to implement the Affordable Care Act’s QAPI when (still waiting . . . ) those regulations ultimately get published. So I thought sharing this post again might be useful.

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.

Cheers,
  Sparky

Pub Chat No. 2: Mark Testa ~ The Data-Driven Future of Healthcare

In this second installment of Pub Chat I am posting an interview with Mark Testa, the Vice President of Quality & Analytics at Catholic Health Services in Miami, Florida.  Mark is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt trained at Motorola and now responsible for planning, designing and implementing quality and process improvement strategies at CHS.

With or without last week’s SCOTUS decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act the healthcare industry – including post-acute/long-term care providers – has been steadily seeking to make greater use of Lean and Six Sigma methodologies in quality and performance improvement.  There are a lot of talking heads out there running around promoting the future of, “Data-Driven Healthcare.” Frankly, I don’t think many of them understand what that really means – and this is an area where having a little bit of knowledge may be more detrimental than continued ignorance if bad resource investment choices are made.

So I thought it would be helpful to provide some basic understanding of these concepts, as well as several suggested resources where you can learn more about quality and performance improvement in healthcare.  I hope you enjoy the interview, which you can listen to by clicking on Larry’s microphone, below:

  ~ Sparky

Recommended resources to learn more about Quality, Performance Improvement and the applicability of Six Sigma principles to Healthcare:
ASQ ~ Lean and Lean Six Sigma in Healthcare
Quality Digest
Lean-Six Sigma for Healthcare: A … Guide to Improving Cost and Throughput
Six Sigma in Healthcare: Today and Tomorrow (HIMSS)

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