Big changes are taking place in our health care system – and it’s about time. While some innovations have been occurring in limited areas around the country, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is making bigger, bolder transformation of the health care system more of a reality. It is altering the way health services are delivered, changing the way we pay for care, and beginning to reward high-quality care rather than a high volume of services.
The new Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation is testing new care models like Patient Centered Medical Homes, Accountable Care Organizations, and the Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative to encourage better care coordination for patients and reward high quality services. That’s especially important for women, who not only use health care services themselves, but also tend to be caregivers for children and older relatives.
While it’s important that all stakeholders are involved in this transformation, it’s especially important to ensure that the voices of patients and their caregivers are heard. After all, these new models are intended to create a more patient-centered approach to care. How can we deliver high quality care to patients, improve their experience with the health care system, and reduce costs? The answer, in part, is to ask them. When a company develops a new product, it conducts extensive testing and evaluation to do everything possible to guarantee that the new product will be well received by customers. Policymakers and health care providers should seek the same kind of input from patients as they transform our nation’s health care system.
Through its Campaign for Better Care, the National Partnership has been working to ensure that policymakers and providers involve and hear from patients, every step of the way. We have fought to ensure that patients and consumers have a seat at the table as new care models are being designed. We are pressing to give patients and consumers seats on the governing bodies of new care models. And we want patient evaluations of their care experience to be a key part of how these new models are evaluated.
We are also working to get patients involved on the ground, as these new models are being designed. That’s the only way to guarantee that the patient voice is truly incorporated into the day-to-day operations of a practice or hospital. Failing to do so would be like a company asking prospective customers what they would like to see in a new product, but never allowing customers to sample it and suggest improvements.
That’s why the National Partnership is working with health care providers as new models of care are shaped. In one example, we are working with those implementing the Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative, which gives resources to practices to promote coordination of primary care. Our goal is to have them create Patient and Family Advisory Councils and utilize other strategies to engage patients and families in their practices. These strategies could include working with patients and families to evaluate patient experience surveys and identify areas for improvement, as well as asking patients and families for feedback on how a practice communicates with patients.
As the nation continues working to improve its health care system, patients must be at the forefront. After all, these changes are all about them.
Debra L. Ness is president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, which has been working for more than 40 years to make quality health care, including the full range of reproductive health services, available to all people, and to make our nation’s workplaces more fair and family friendly.