Health IT, physician leadership vital to the success of ACOs

July 25, 2014

Advanced analytics and healthcare information technology are vital components to successful accountable care organizations, according to a recent study.

Advanced analytics and healthcare information technology (health IT) are vital components to successful accountable care organizations (ACOs), according to a recent study.

The study, published in the journal Academic Medicine, looked at 253 Medicare ACOs and focused on the 51 academic medical centers (AMCs), 11 of which are part of the Pioneer program and 40 that are part of the Medicare Shared Savings Program.  

The authors identified three keys to ACO success: strong leadership and governance; care coordination; and robust IT systems. These IT systems must integrate data from electronic health records, claims histories, surveys and other sources. “Through experience with data and IT systems, AMCs can understand where improvements in population health management strategies may lead to significant cost savings and improved quality outcomes,” the authors write.

But those data health tools can require significant financial investment, ranging from $15,000 to $50,000 per physician, according to the study.

 “There has to be an electronic medical record system robust enough to analyze and assess quality and safety issues,” said Scott Berkowitz, MD, MBA, medical director of accountable care and assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in a written statement. “It’s important to quickly identify areas where changes are needed.”

When discussing the importance of ACO organization and leadership, the authors emphasize the need for primary care physicians’ (PCPs) active participation on ACO governing boards.

“Early adopters of the ACO model have emphasized the importance of having PCPs drive the design of the ACO to ensure that quality and cost are aligned and support physician-majority leadership boards to further shape components of the model,” the study said.

A survey published in the June issue of Health Affairs shows that more physicians are taking a leadership role in ACOs. It found that 51% of ACOs are physician-led, and 33% of ACOs are jointly operated by physicians and hospitals. However, that survey also cited the development of health IT infrastructure as one of their top challenges.