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Reaching Out for Advice

January 17, 2012
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CMS announces the creation of its Innovation Advisors Program

On January 3, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the creation of its new Innovation Advisors Program, which will “support individuals who can test and refine new models to drive delivery system reform,” as an extension of the work of the CMS Innovation Center, created under healthcare reform. The Jan. 3 press release notes that the Center “seeks to deepen the capacity of transforming the large healthcare system and build the essential infrastructure and assistance for driving change by creating and supporting experts in these areas in communities across the country.”

This will be quite a large group: the CMS press release notes that “The Innovation Advisors Program will select and develop as many as 200 individuals from across the nation in its first year.” Further, it states that “Candidates include, but are not limited to, physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, instructors, and non-clinicians (i.e. healthcare executives, practice managers) with experience in the healthcare field.” What’s more, in reviewing the applications it is soliciting, CMS says that “Management experience will be viewed as an asset.” It also emphasizes that none of these folks will become CMS employees; rather, their home organizations will receive a stipend for their participation in the process.

On the day the press release was made public, CMS announced the first 73 individuals already selected for participation in the program. And while I’m not personally familiar with any of the individuals named in that initial list (and perhaps that’s a very good thing—we’ve all already heard from the same 50 famous people in healthcare over and over, haven’t we??), they are healthcare professionals—the initial 73 advisors come from a host of renowned healthcare organizations, including, among many others, Massachusetts General Hospital, Catholic Health East, Fairview Health Services (of St. Paul, Minnesota), the University of Rochester Medical Center, Centura Health, Mount Sinai Medical Center (New York), Sentara Healthcare, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, and Kaiser Permanente.

Of course, the proof of this concept will be in its pudding, so to speak, meaning that what comes out of this process will be what is important. But as a concept, this sounds excellent to me. After all, who hasn’t heard (or even expressed!) the idea that the federal government just seems disconnected from the reality of patient care delivery (or even the reality of payment system impacts) sometimes? And sometimes, such does seem the case.

But if the folks at CMS are serious about this—and I’ve heard only good things about Dr. Richard Gilfillan, the director of the Innovation Center, as it’s known for short—then some very good things could come out of this process, given the right ingredients and, of course, people.

After all, there are so many healthcare payment and regulatory elements on the collective front burner these days, it’s making the heads of the leaders of patient care organizations spin around like Linda Blair’s in “The Exorcist.” So if some reality checking and touching of bases can take place, then at the very least, clinical and administrative leaders from across the industry could be giving CMS some valuable advice along the way.

Again, just to underscore the point, the proof will be in the outcome-based pudding here. But all those in the industry who have long lamented the lack of responsiveness of CMS to healthcare professionals’ concerns now have an alluring new choice: they can apply to advise the 800-pound gorilla. Who knew?