Is an ACO Right for Your Practice?

It's not hard to recognize the popularity of Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) considering the number of ACOs has risen from 32 in 2011 to over 600 today. The ACO health care model is part of the 2009 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), and payers hope that ACOs will save money while improving quality.

While it is easy to tout the benefits of joining an ACO - improved practice efficiency, quality of care, patient satisfaction, shared savings, etc. - 60% of physician practices have not joined and have no intention of joining an ACO in the future. Why the resistance to joining an Accountable Care Organization?

Having the necessary resources has been a main concern for smaller practices. Whether a practice is large or small, it must meet the requirements set by the ACO. In the short run this can appear to be a never ending obstacle to small or mid size practices causing them to avoid ACOs entirely. Instead of avoiding ACOs, have the conversation and ask when a small size practice can anticipate to see a return on investment or seek outside consulting assistance with the transition. Before joining an ACO it is critical to ask a number of questions like this to make sure an ACO will be a good fit for your practice and vice versa.

IT resources may also pose a problem for some practices. Transitioning to an EHR to only find out that the ACO is not using the same system can be a sunk cost. If considering both the switch to an EHR and joining an ACO, consider them together. Evaluate EHR software and evaluate different Accountable Care Organizations. Talk to the ACOs about your software technology and the software technology other providers in the ACO are using. If you join the ACO before purchasing an EHR software will the ACO help with this cost? If not, will the EHR that you are required to use be user friendly for you and your staff? If not, you may want to reconsider joing that particular ACO or ask them if alternative options are available.

While it may seem risky to depend on other practices to be skilled at keeping patients healthy and lowering costs in the process, providers are also optimistic that the risks will not outweigh the benefits that an ACO presents to them. Solo practitioners find comfort in joining a network of peers dedicated to better population health control and are also seeing greater financial security by leaning on fellow members to aid with new investments to benefit the entire group. 

Coordinated Care is what your patients want. Comprehensive care, access to more choices, and a personalized experience are just a few of the demands of patients today. Accountable Care Organizations can help you deliver these services without making your patients feel as if they are being shuffled around from one provider to the next with no true health improving results.

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