ACO -The Future of Healthcare

ACO -The Future of Healthcare

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What is an Accountable Care Organization (ACO)? If you work in healthcare you have heard the term and probably have a general idea of how one operates. But, do you fully understand the depth of the topic and how it will affect how your work?

Technically speaking, an ACO is a group of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers, who come together voluntarily to give coordinated high quality care to their Medicare patients. Here is a simple analogy to illustrate how they work. Look at an ACO the way you would look at buying a car. As the consumer, do you want to go track down, find, and purchase each individual piece of the car separately? Or would you prefer to buy the car whole and in one piece ready to drive off the lot? This is how an ACO should operate. It is designed to be a one stop shop for the patient. In other words, an ACO is a single organization, like an integrated medical group, that is accountable for the complete coordination of care to treat patients. No longer is the burden of treatment placed solely on the patient, but passes some of that burden onto the care providers as well.

So, what does that mean to those working in and supporting healthcare technology? It means you need to prepare. Below are a few items that will need to be in place and working properly in order to fully support the move to an ACO.

  • Electronic Health Record (EHR) – Without the ability to share information electronically between disparate systems the physicians working within the ACO will be at a great disadvantage. Electronic communication and sharing of information between physicians is key in cutting down on the amount of time required to treat a patient, the number of repeat tests required, and the overall frustration to the patient regarding their treatment plan.

  • Health Information Exchange (HIE) – The availability and integration with a Health Information Exchange is also critical to the success of an ACO. Not only do physicians within the same EHR need to have access to patient information. But, what about those in different locations that may be working with different EHRs or treatment systems? Having the ability to quickly and easily pull patient information and history, regardless of the location of treatment or system being used, supports strong quality of patient care. Again, think in terms of our car analogy. If you travel from one GM dealership to another, wouldn’t you want your cars maintenance history to travel with you?

  • Personal Health Record (PHR) – Let’s not forget about the importance of the patient in this model. Having a Personal Health Record in place that allows patients to see their EHR information gives the patient some control over their treatment plan. This allows patient to track test results, medications, and treatment plans, allowing the patient to work side-by-side with their care givers to ensure that that everyone is receiving quality and trusted health information.

As you can see, ACOs come with many benefits. However, a quality ACO program will not be built over night. There is much work to be done to support this model. The key to success is ensuring that everyone has access to the data they need to complete their part of the puzzle efficiently.

~ Michelle Burton