Public reports on quality measures to increase

Improve processes with team approach

Public reporting of quality measures is likely to increase in the near future, and health care organizations should get ready for it, says Carolyn Scott, director of collaborative services and CEO work groups for clinical excellence with VHA Inc., an Irving, TX-based health care cooperative.

In 2005, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) plans to expand the 10 quality indicator measures in its public reporting sector to between 17 and 22 measures, Scott points out. "The burden is not going to lessen. It’s going to be greater. The quicker we can get a handle on improving quality indicators now, the more prepared we’ll be for additional measures," she observes.

The Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA) already provides a financial incentive for prospective payment system hospitals to voluntarily report quality of care information. Those who submit data will be eligible to receive full Medicare payment for health care services under MMA. Those who do not submit data will receive a 0.4% reduction in annual Medicare payments.

"The trend in public reporting is well on its way with JCAHO [the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations] publicly reporting some quality indicators for hospitals. We’re going to see more of that happening as we go along," adds Earl Kurashige, RN, project manager for Qualis Health, a nonprofit health care quality improvement company based in Seattle.

CMS is now making quality data available on a consumer web page, Hospital Compare, which can be found at www.medicare.gov.

Quality improvement entails involving all the people in the health care delivery system, Kurashige points out. "It’s not just doctors and not just hospitals. We can’t just point the finger at one group and say, You need to do better.’ It’s a team effort," he says.

The team approach to improving quality is a paradigm shift for health care providers, notes Kurashige. "Everyone working together to improve health care of the individual can have a big influence on the quality of care," he says.

Scott and Kurashige work with health care facilities on quality improvement projects, particularly those relating to the CMS and JCAHO quality indicators, which are the focus of most facilities because they are the center of attention in health care. They agreed to share strategies, pointing out that the techniques will work for any quality improvement project.

The first step in driving improvement is starting at the top, Scott asserts. "If you really want to drive improvement or change in the organization, senior management must be involved and actively engaged. The senior leadership needs to be engaged and make others realize that this is a priority," she says.

Involve people on the quality improvement task force who work directly with the patients whose care you want to improve. "It must be a collaborative effort. Members of the task force learn from each other as well as from the materials you provide," Scott says.

Choose a respected peer to champion effort

Along with the administration’s backing, staff need to have one of their peers championing the cause, she adds. Don’t choose a champion who is new to the team or someone who wants to work his or her way to the top, Scott suggests. Find someone whom everyone on the team looks up to and respects.

Case managers should play a very large part in assuring that the quality of care continues to improve, Kurashige notes. "In many cases, we want to be sure that those patients who are in the hospital have sufficient information on how to take care of themselves when they are discharged, especially if they go home and have home health agencies provide care for them. Case managers certainly do the brunt of that work in handling discharge management," he says.

Case managers can be invaluable when it comes to making sure that the quality indicators are met, Scott adds. "By reviewing the charts and reminding staff about the requirements of some measures, they can help drive improvement. Sometimes the staff are just too busy to remember everything they need to do," she says.

Scott works with the CEO work groups for clinical excellence, bringing the CEOs of its member facilities together and working with them on areas where they want to drive improvement. After receiving input from the CEOs, she convenes the task forces from participating organizations to address the identified areas of need. "Because of public reporting, coupled with pay for performance, many of them choose to work on AMI, heart failure, community-acquired pneumonia, and surgical infection prevention," she says.

VHA sets goals for compliance with each performance measure. Facilities that perform at 90% or more on every single measure are called green-light hospitals. Those performing at 80% to 90% are yellow-light hospitals. Performance of less than 80% is considered to be red light. "That is how we set goals and develop at thresholds," Scott notes. The facilities that participate in VHA’s quality initiatives enter their data every quarter using a web-based tool.

"Within our work groups, the data are not blind. It’s no secret who is performing well and who is struggling. Those who need improvement on a certain measure can ask their counterparts in other areas who are doing well on the measure for extra help," she says.

Qualis compiles data from JCAHO, CMS, and other organizations and distributes them to participating facilities, showing them how they compare to state, regional, and national data. The company has just finished its first round of meetings for each of the five regions in the state of Washington. The topics covered at regional meetings are suggested by participants and are specific to the needs of that region.

In some cases, the facilities are asked to present programs on quality as well. "We ask the hosting health care facility to showcase their quality program and share what they are doing to help raise the bar for everyone else. The goal is not to create an atmosphere of competition. The intent is to raise the bar for quality, and we’re emphasizing a cooperative endeavor to achieve that," Kurashige says.

If a facility discovers their rates are low in one of the quality indicators, Qualis suggests simple methods they can use to help improve their rates, especially for national reporting of data, he says. "We do this so others can gather the information that is presented and start one of their own programs or enhance a program they already have," Kurashige explains.

The regional meetings have been very popular, he says. "We ask them what quality issues they are interested in hearing about and what kind of speakers, data, and tools they would like to have to help improve quality. When we follow up, they express appreciation to have the opportunity to share information that can help them improve quality," he adds.