I was at an ACO conference a while back and one of the speakers compared the idea of ACOs to a tire change. Although, he suggested in an ACO world, you’d get your tire changed and then a mile down the road the tire goes flat and the tire company will say they couldn’t predict that to happen.
It’s an interesting comparison to consider. I know many doctors are concerned with ACOs for situations like the one described. This is particularly true because they only have so much control over the health of a patient. Using the car analogy, they don’t know if the person is going to go off roading with their car (risky behavior), run over a nail (get in an accident), or slash the tire themselves (smoking or other unhealthy behavior). Yet, in an ACO world, the doctor is held accountable for all of these things.
I don’t pretend to be the foremost authority on ACOs. I’m still learning (and so is everyone at this point). However, there are some real challenges associated with reimbursing based on improving the health of a patient so they don’t return to the office.
Certainly technology can play a major role in making this happen. In fact, without technology this is a really hard thing to do. Mobile devices can help patients be more accountable for the choices they make. They can help a doctor influence healthy behavior in ways that weren’t possible before.
Big data can help a healthcare organization know which patient populations need the most attention to be able to increase the overall health of a population. Plus, this is only going to get more powerful as patients start tracking their health data more and more and healthcare can address those who have the most need before they even know they need it.
I like the direction that we’re headed in healthcare where we try and reimburse for the right things, but it’s going to be a really long, hard road. In fact, as I look into the future of ACOs I don’t really see a road at all. Instead, I see the ACO movement as trailblazing its way to an unknown future.