Value-Based Medicine: Part 4

It costs what?! How we can educate residents and students on how much things cost

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In resident education, understanding the business of medicine in a value-based health care system is imperative



Why are you ordering a CBC on the patient when her white blood cell count, hemoglobin, and platelets have been stable for the past 3 days?” sternly inquired the attending gynecologic oncologist. “Don’t order tests without any clinical indication. If she is infected or bleeding, there will be signs and thus an indication to order a CBC. The physical exam is your test.” There was an authoritative pause before he invoked the “value-based care” maxim.

For many residents who graduated in the past decade, education in value-based care and alternative payment models (APMs) was cobbled together from experience, demonstrated by attendings who labeled it as such, and from rare didactic education classroom sessions and inpatient environments.

In today’s health care environment, professional survival requires the ability to successfully deliver high-value care to patients. Attendings often illustrate and champion how to do this by using patient care to highlight the definition: Value = Quality ÷ Cost.

For residency education programs to create the ObGyns of the future, they must teach trainees what they will be evaluated on and held accountable for.1 Today’s clinicians will have to take responsibility for reigning in health care costs from the fee-for-service era, which in the United States have snowballed into one of the unhealthiest cost-to-outcomes ratios worldwide. Residents will be required to understand not only value but also areas in which they can influence the cost of care and how their outcome metrics are valued.

Modifiable factors in value-based care

As mentioned, value is defined by the equation, Value = Quality ÷ Cost. The granularity of these terms helps clarify the depth and the multitude of levels that clinicians can modify and influence to achieve the highest value.

Quality, as defined by the National Academy of Medicine, includes2:

  • effectiveness: providing care processes and achieving outcomes as supported by scientific evidence
  • efficiency: maximizing the quality of a comparable unit of health care delivered or unit of health benefit achieved for a given unit of health care resources used
  • equity: providing health care of equal quality to those who may differ in personal characteristics other than their clinical condition or preferences for care
  • patient-centeredness: meeting patient needs and preferences and providing education and support
  • safety: actual or potential bodily harm
  • timeliness: obtaining needed care while minimizing delays.

From electronic health records, which were mandated in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, offices, hospitals, and medical systems have gained robust databases of mineable information. Even data abstraction from paper records has been made easier, allowing better reflection of practitioner-based delivery of care.

Understanding cost breakdown in the overall value equation

With regard to value-based care, cost is generally related to money. When broadly explored, however, cost can be broken down into cost to the patient, the health care system, and society this way:

  • patient: time spent receiving evaluation and management from a clinician; money spent for family care needs while undergoing management; money spent for procedures and tests; wages lost due to appointments
  • health system: preventive services versus costly emergency room visit; community-based interventions to improve population health
  • society: cost to tax payers; equitable distribution of vital resources (for example, vaccines); prevention of iatrogenic antibiotic resistance.

To understand how physicians are paid, it is important to see how payers value our services. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services states that it is “promoting value-based care as part of its larger quality strategy to reform how health care is delivered and paid for.” In 2018, the US Department of Health and Human Services is striving to have half of Medicare payments in APMs.3

It is the physician’s responsibility to recognize that costs to the patient, payer, health system, and society can compete with and directly influence the outcome of each other. For example, because the patient pays an insurance premium to participate in a risk pool where cost-sharing is the primary cost-containment strategy, poor-value interventions can directly translate into increased premiums, copayments, or deductibles for the entire pool.4

By clearly identifying the different variables involved in the value-based care equation, residents can better understand their responsibility in their day-to-day work in medicine to address value, not just quality or cost. Clarifying the tenets of value-based care will help guide educators in identifying “teaching moments” and organizing didactic sessions focused on practical implementation of value.

Less is more

In our opening anecdote, the attending shows how curbing overuse of resources can increase the value of care delivered. But that example illustrates only one of the many levels on which educators can help residents understand their impact on value. A multidisciplinary education that incorporates outpatient and inpatient pharmacists, social workers, occupational therapists, pelvic floor physiotherapists, office staff, billing specialists, operating room (OR) technologists, and others can be beneficial in learning how to deliver high-value care.

Read about selecting value-based interventions at work.

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