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Study: ACOs Improve the Patient Experience

October 30, 2014
by Gabriel Perna
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Accountable care organizations (ACO) have come under the white hot of light of scrutiny as of late but a recent study indicates they are improving patient satisfaction. 
The study, from the Harvard Medical School Department of Health Care Policy, examined the impact of ACOs on patients. What they found was beneficiaries served by ACOs reported improvements in timely access to care, perceived coordination of their care and access to their medical information.
The researchers compared the patient satisfaction of 32,000 beneficiaries served by ACOs with those of 250,000 beneficiaries served by other providers, using Medicare claims and linked data from the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) survey. The improvements, they say, were in areas that can be easily modify though the implementation of new scheduling, referral or information systems. 
There were no noted differences how ACO patients rated their individual physicians or their physicians' communication skills. The researchers say those kinds of changes have more to do with altering physician behavior. 
"The improvements that we found in patient experiences constitute important initial progress in fostering high-quality, patient-centered care in Medicare," stated author of the study, J. Michael McWilliams, associate professor of health care policy and medicine at HMS and Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Researchers say the greatest improvements in experience were for patients with multiple, complex illnesses. In this group, improvements in overall ratings of care were equivalent to moving an ACO from average performance to being in the top 4 to 18 percent of ACOs.
The study comes at a time when ACOs are under more scrutiny than ever. Recently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released the mixed financial results from years 1 and 2 of the Pioneer ACO program. In September, three accountable care organizations (ACOs) announced their departures out of Medicare's Pioneer ACO program dropping the total to 19. 

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