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Health Affairs: U.S. Docs Spend $15.4B Annually to Report Quality Measures

March 8, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Nearly three-fourths of the physician groups reported being measured on quality measures that are not clinically relevant

A national survey of physician practices finds physicians and staff spend, on average, 785 physician and staff hours per physician annually—equaling $15.4 billion—to track and report quality measures for Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurers, according to the March issue of Health Affairs.

Weill Cornell Medicine researchers analyzed results from a national survey of cardiology, orthopedics, primary care, and multispecialty practices, drawn at random from the Colorado-based Medical Group Management Association’s (MGMA) membership list. Surveyed practices reported spending 15.1 hours per physician per week dealing with external quality measures such as developing and implementing data collection processes, entering information relevant for quality reporting into patient medical records, and collecting and transmitting data.

The average cost to a practice for spending this time is $40,069 per physician per year. Eighty-one percent of surveyed practices reported that the effort they spend on quality measures is “more” or “much more” compared to three years ago, but only 27 percent believe that the measures moderately or strongly represent their quality of care, according to a Health Affairs blog post on the research, which was funded by The Physicians Foundation.

In response to the study, Halee Fischer-Wright, president and CEO of MGMA, said in an emailed statement that “While much is to be gained from quality measurement, the current system is unnecessarily costly, and greater effort is needed to standardize measures and make them easier to report.”

Fischer-Wright continued, "On top of the obscene waste of billions of dollars each year on quality measures, the most alarming thing about this study of MGMA member practices is that nearly three-fourths of the groups reported being measured on quality measures that are not clinically relevant. The vast majority also stated current measures are useless for improving patient care. This study proves that the current top-down approach has failed. It serves no purpose to have over three thousand competing measures of quality across government and private initiatives.”

It should be noted that last month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), in collaboration, released seven sets of standardized clinical quality measures for physician quality programs. According to the CMS press release, at the time, partners in the Collaborative recognize that physicians and other clinicians must currently report multiple quality measures to different entities. Measure requirements are often not aligned among payers, which has resulted in confusion and complexity for reporting providers. Further, at last week’s HIMSS16 conference in Las Vegas, CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt acknowledged that he himself has been on the road visiting doctors’ offices to get a feel for their frustrations when it comes to actions that take away from patient care.

Nonetheless, Fischer-Wright added in her statement, “Although standardization is critical, if measures don't improve patient care, it’s an exercise in futility. As the largest contributor to the problem, the federal government needs to get out of the business of dictating patient care through wasteful mandates and create simplified systems to support medical practices in improving quality across the country."



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