Raising the Grade: NCQA’s first ever Google Hangout predicts health care future

This month, NCQA stepped into a new world of technology to do what we have done for more than two decades. We hosted our first Google Hangout to promote improvement in health care. Health care thought leaders met virtually to broadcast a comprehensive discussion of health care as it stands today and where it is headed for the future.

NCQA President Margaret O’Kane (@PeggyNCQA) kicked it all off with a look at what’s already been accomplished. Measuring health plan quality, she says, has improved the lives of the 171 million Americans enrolled in plans that report quality results. O’Kane attributes Federal funding that is increasingly targeted toward improving the quality of care. But it’s measuring and reporting quality that’s made the most difference. In just a few decades, the concept of quality measurement and reporting—once a pipe dream to some—has become the industry-accepted standard.

And increasingly, O’Kane reports, consumers have more information to make the best health care choices. For instance, report cards. Remember grade school, where a bad report card might have gotten you in trouble? Now, consumers can consult report cards for the performance of organizations (health plans, hospitals, etc.) and individuals (providers, clinicians, etc.). The report cards are derived from the data NCQA collects from health plans and health records.

Moderator Julie Appleby (@Julie_appleby), Senior Reporter at Kaiser Health News (@KHNews), probed panelists on the perks of publicly reported tools. The consensus is report cards boost the ability of patients to identify the best physicians and hospitals, while giving players in the health care system powerful incentives to improve quality.

Still, there is work to be done. Debra Ness, President of the National Partnership for Women & Families (@NPWF), said quality organizations need to learn better “how to make this information accessible to people at the point of decision-making.” Let’s face it, A grade only matters to individuals who consult report cards in the first place.

Gaps in measurement were also discussed in the Hangout. Mark Smith, MD, President of the California HealthCare Foundation (@CHCFNews), specifically targeted Accountable Care Organizations, medical homes and similar organizations. He described a “need to develop persuasive and compelling measures of quality” to assess the impact such organizations have on the health care delivery system.

The measurement discussion also addressed the quality’s movement toward outcome measurement. Mario Molina, President of Molina HealthCare (@molinahealth), called for a balance between measuring the process of delivering care and measuring outcomes. He also said the patient cannot be left out of the equation. The way to achieve the balance, he says, is to ensure that physician reimbursement payments are “tied to quality […] and tied to outcomes.”

The Hangout took an hour—not quite enough time to talk about all of quality’s progress or its challenges ahead. But there is strong consensus among these panelists. Now is the time for the spectrum of health care organizations to collaboratively and continuously raise the grade.

See the entire hangout here.

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