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Stuart Guterman, Commonwealth Fund, reporting in

by Lola Butcher

I was lucky to interview Stuart Guterman, senior program director of the Medicare’s Future program at the Commonwealth Fund. A couple of things that caught my attention:

Butcher: How should value in health care be measured, and do we need more measures or fewer?

Guterman: That’s really the crucial issue. There has been a lot of discussion about paying for outcomes, and certainly one can make a strong case that how the patients survives the health care, what the health status of the patient is in the long run is really the bottom line. But I think we are where we are on being able to pay for quality because we’ve developed a set of more reliable process measures, that is measures of how services are provided that are expected to lead to better outcomes. So we now can put together a list of things that are pretty much accepted as ways health care should be provided that will lead to better outcomes.

In terms of more measures or fewer, there are arguments for fewer measures because a long list of measures is thought to present the prospect of confusion. I think that actually if you have a longer list of measures and if you really are comprehensive in the list of measures for what you pay for, then you’re really transmitting a broader message that the objective is to improve quality and improve the value that you get for the health care dollar. I think that’s really the message that needs to be sent in value-based purchasing, not doctors should do this or doctors should do that. Doctors should really do a broad range of things that lead to better health for their patients.

Butcher: How should providers be rewarded for value?

Guterman: There are different ways to approach rewarding for value. Certainly you want to reward providers that provide the best care. There have been studies that found, however, that if you rely only those kinds of measures, then you end up basically making most of your bonus payments to providers who already are at the level that you’re looking for. If you’re really trying to improve the system, then you need to provide incentives for providers that aren’t where you’d like them to be to get where you’d like them to be.

So I think at some point you need to be able to reward improvement over time, and I think you also, when we have more information and we’re able to be more confident about setting levels of acceptable care, that we might want to pay on that as well. I think a good pay for performance system will basically incorporate measures of all three types of good performance so that we can have rewards for the folks who do it right, incentives for the folks who aren’t quite there yet but are improving, and then some more explicit recognition of the fact that you really need to be at a certain level in order to be considered a top-notch provider.

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