SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. – The application of simple low-cost interventions and hands-on care, as well as enlisting the patient to participate in care for him or herself, can help vascular specialists achieve favorable outcomes when managing patients in an era of increased regulation.
That was the message of an expert panel assembled to deliver “clinically pertinent information in the midst of a regulatory system that is driving us down a [certain] pathway whether or not we want to go,” panelist Dr. Bruce H. Gray, a vascular surgeon at Greenville (S.C.) Health System, told the audience at this year’s annual meeting of the Southern Association for Vascular Surgery.
Under the Affordable Care Act, there has been “a shift from structure and process to now just outcomes,” according to panelist Dr. John W. Hallett Jr., a clinical professor of surgery at the Medical University of South Carolina and chief medical officer at the Roper St. Francis Vascular Care Center, both in Charleston.
Incentives now penalties
The Patient Quality Reporting System (formerly called the Physicians Quality Reporting Initiative) was the first national program designed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to link the reporting of quality data to physician payment. There are six quality strategy domains in the PQRS: effective clinical care; patient safety; communication and care coordination; person- and caregiver-centered experience and outcomes; efficiency and cost reduction; and community and population health. Physicians must satisfy at least three of the six or risk penalties.
Initially intended as an incentive program when it was launched as part of the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006, physicians who voluntarily reported their quality data were awarded a 2% bonus on their yearly CMS payment. Although still referred to by CMS as an incentive program, beginning this year, physician-reported quality data considered by the PQRS criteria as negative will be used to assess a penalty up to 1.5% against their expected CMS payment for that year. In 2016, the penalty is set to increase to 2% of the physician’s CMS payment. “They call the reporting voluntary but now there’s a penalty if you don’t report it,” said panelist Dr. Adam W. Beck, a vascular surgeon at the University of Florida.
Searching for evidence
However, much of the criteria used by the PRQS to evaluate a vascular surgeon’s performance, and thus what he or she will be paid, is not evidence based, according to Dr. Beck. For example, one CMS vascular surgery quality measure in place considers that open repair of a 6 cm or less nonruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm without major complications should result in the patient being discharged postoperatively on day 7.
“The idea is that this is a purely elective operation so in theory, that patient should not die, and should not have major complications, and so can go home on day 7,” Dr. Beck said. “But we don’t really know if that’s true. Some of us are working on figuring out if any of these [measures] are useful or not.”
Similarly, Dr. Gray said that, since its publication in 2005, the BASIL (Bypass vs. Angioplasty in Severe Ischemia of the Leg) trial, which supported surgery over balloon angioplasty for improved long-term outcomes in patients with peripheral artery disease, has been the de facto benchmark for predicting death in this patient cohort, a necessary consideration when choosing a treatment algorithm.
This, despite what he suggested were generalizations gleaned from the data that are not always appropriate, particularly when considering claudication. “Only 11% of those critical limb ischemia patients who were eligible for the trial were randomized to any of the study’s six sites. This trial cannot be extrapolated to our entire heterogeneous CLI population,” Dr. Gray said.
This was true, too, he said, not only because a minority of the patients had angioplasty at multiple levels, but because the patient assessment and mortality rate criteria in the study may not actually coincide with how other specialists assess their patients and predict mortality, as evidenced by a number of studies that have been published since BASIL, all of which relied on different criteria for determining two-year mortality rates.
“The BASIL trial recommendation that we should know the life expectancy of our patients has popped up in the literature more and more, and I have thought long and hard about how that impacts my clinical practice decision tree,” Dr. Gray said, concluding that ultimately, predicting mortality is beside the point. “Mortality is inevitable and sooner in CLI patients. The best care has less to do with predicting mortality, but requires ... the integrity to choose the right procedure for the right patient at the right time.”