Tuesday, March 29, 2011

ACOs and Fierce Communication

So here’s a question to ponder while you’re reading our carefully honed prose: How do you attract patients to sign up for an accountable care organization?

Last week, Cigna announced that its two ACO pilots were doing, at least preliminarily, what they should be doing: improving patients’ health and saving money. The giant insurer is so happy with the results that it is planning a national expansion of its ACO program this year.

Here’s why they’re happy: At its multi-specialty medical group practice division in Phoenix, the average annual savings per patient was $336; ambulatory surgery was down 11%; preventive care visits, overall, were up 3%, and up 12% for adults. And, its partner in New Hampshire is “closing gaps in care 10% better than the market.”

A few years ago, Cigna jumped on the ACO bandwagon. The goal: “Achieve the ‘triple aim’ of improved quality, lower medical costs and improved patient satisfaction by creating a care model anchored in the principles of the patient-centered medical home that also builds in accountability by rewarding physicians for results.”

In its press release Cigna says its collaborative ACO model is big on communication. Its doctors and nurses speak frequently with its customers’ doctors and nurses, “to help with coordination of patient care.” Cigna’s program also includes disease management programs and lifestyle management programs, including stress management.

Cigna doesn’t say how its customers reacted to the idea of participating in an ACO. That notion is even more interesting for Medicare patients. How will Medicare—by law, mandated to start pilot programs by next January—attract its seniors, normally an independent, privacy-loving lot? According to the new healthcare law, the pilot ACOs will take care of all the healthcare needs of at least 5,000 Medicare patients for three years, minimum.

FierceHealthcare says the success of these ACOS will require “fierce communication strategies,” like physicians doing things they don’t normally get paid for—contacting patients by e-mail, instant messaging and so on.

But as usual, it comes down to communication. We somehow doubt that it will matter what the medium is: word of mouth, Twitter, radio, smoke signal. If the ACO healthcare providers are communicating among themselves, sharing information about a patient’s well-being, and that patient’s health is improving, along with his quality of life, then that patient will spread the word.

And that can be pretty fierce, don’t you think?

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