Improving Quality and Value in the U.S. Health Care System

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Executive Summary

The U.S. health care system faces significant challenges that clearly indicate the urgent need for reform. Attention has rightly focused on the approximately 46 million Americans who are uninsured, and on the many insured Americans who face rapid increases in premiums and out-of-pocket costs. As Congress and the Obama administration consider ways to invest new funds to reduce the number of Americans without insurance coverage, we must simultaneously address shortfalls in the quality and efficiency of care that lead to higher costs and to poor health outcomes. To do otherwise casts doubt on the feasibility and sustainability of coverage expansions and also ensures that our current health care system will continue to have large gaps — even for those with access to insurance coverage.

There is broad evidence that Americans often do not get the care they need even though the United States spends more money per person on health care than any other nation in the world. Preventive care is underutilized, resulting in higher spending on complex, advanced diseases. Patients with chronic diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes all too often do not receive proven and effective treatments such as drug therapies or selfmanagement services to help them more effectively manage their conditions. This is true for insured, uninsured, and under-insured Americans. These problems are exacerbated by a lack of coordination of care for patients with chronic diseases. The underlying fragmentation of the health care system is not surprising given that health care providers do not have the payment support or other tools they need to communicate and work together effectively to improve patient care.

While many patients often do not receive medically necessary care, others receive care that may be unnecessary, or even harmful. Research has documented tremendous variation in hospital inpatient lengths of stay, visits to specialists, procedures and testing, and costs — not only by different geographic areas of the United States, but also from hospital to hospital in the same town. This variation has no apparent impact on the health of the populations being treated. Limited evidence on which treatments and procedures are most effective, limited evidence on how to inform providers about the effectiveness of different treatments, and failures to detect and reduce errors further contribute to gaps in the quality and efficiency of care. These issues are particularly relevant to lower-income Americans and to members of diverse ethnic and demographic groups who often face great disparities in health and health care.

Reforming our health care delivery system to improve the quality and value of care is essential to address escalating costs, poor quality, and increasing numbers of Americans without health insurance coverage. Reforms should improve access to the right care at the right time in the right setting. They should keep people healthy and prevent common, avoidable complications of illnesses to the greatest extent possible. Thoughtfully constructed reforms would support greater access to health-improving care — in contrast to the current system, which encourages more tests, procedures, and treatments that are at best unnecessary and at worst harmful.

This report reviews the evidence on a range of payment and delivery system reforms designed to improve quality and value. It reaches several conclusions:

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