JAMA Study Concludes that ACOs are Poised to Improve Care and May Lower Costs

A study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests that the accountable care organization (ACO) model shows promise at improving quality of care and may provide some reduction in the rate of cost growth.

On September 12, 2012, JAMA published the results of a study that examined the performance of ten physician groups that participated in Medicare’s Physician Group Practice Demonstration (PGPD), a predecessor to the ACO. The researchers’ analysis of the pre-intervention and post-intervention cost and quality of care results provided confirmation that the accountability of the model helps improve quality of care. Nevertheless, the ‘jury is still out’ regarding cost savings, since the savings experienced by certain members of the groups studied were largely offset by increases experienced by their colleagues (with the exception of dually eligible beneficiaries).

Many experts believe that web based EHR solutions, which support the effective real-time exchange of information between members of an accountable network of providers, will play a key role in achieving the quality of care and cost containment goals of the ACO model. In fact, the generous incentives created for meaningful use of EMR technology are predicated upon the belief that such technology will improve care and reduce expenses. As time passes and more historical data are available, studies looking at the impact of ACOs and electronic health records on quality of care and expenses will provide important insights that enable policymakers and health industry leaders to make informed decisions resulting in a healthier patient population and more sustainable cost structure.