Researchers from Dartmouth College and the University of Michigan have discovered that the implementation of pilot accountable care organizations at 10 large health systems did not limit spending on discretionary or non-discretionary cardiovascular treatment for patients.
We found that, when an ACO payment model was implemented, evidence-based treatments for patients with cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack or stroke, were provided consistently, said lead author Carrie Colla, a health economist at Dartmouth. "That's a good thing. However, we also found that discretionary tests and procedures, such as stress tests for people without symptoms, were still being commonly ordered. We hypothesized that pilot ACOs would target these discretionary treatments to help lower spending, but that didn't happen. For ACOs, which need to focus on limiting spending on discretionary treatments, this is a missed opportunity."
The intervention group in this study was composed of fee-for-service Medicare patients from 10 groups participating in a Medicare pilot ACO organization called the Physician Group Practice Demonstration (PGPD). The controls were organizations in the same region without pilot ACOs. The study considered cardiovascular care before and after implementation of the PGPD.
"We looked very closely at our results, wondering if perhaps some pilot ACOs fared better than others," corresponding author Philip Goodney, M.D., said. "However, for every ACO in the study that spent a little less, another ACO spent a little more. As a result, ACO providers as a group didn't limit spending when compared to the control group of providers without pilot ACOs."
Looking forward, the Dartmouth team suggests that a more global approach within health systems that involves everyone from primary care physicians to specialists is needed to realize potential savings in an ACO model.
The study is available here.
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