By
Ronit Molko, Ph.D., BCBA-D

A patient desperate for pain relief opts for spinal fusion surgery, a procedure that typically costs between $80,000 and $150,000. Spinal fusion can offer benefits to healthcare patients but it has a woeful success rate often tabbed at 50%. We know that three of every seven patients who undergo the operation require further surgical intervention or experience disability, opiate use, and prolonged work loss, as well as low return-to-work status.

Yet patients are charged the same fee whether they are wholly cured or can’t walk following the procedure. The disconnect between healthcare costs and health care outcomes has sparked a growing movement to price healthcare based on the results.

This is called Value-Based Healthcare.

In a nation whose healthcare costs exceed other similar countries’ per capita expenditures by whole number multiples, while producing inferior results, the United States may have the most to gain from this movement. Value-based healthcare, by definition, puts more emphasis on prevention, and on the treatment of chronic health issues, and places the patient at the center of the treatment regimen.

How Value-Based Healthcare Works

Dr. Christina Akerman, a professor of medicine at the University of Texas’s Dell Medical School, offers an example of value-based healthcare at work. She mentions a clinic in Germany that changed its treatment of localized prostate cancer to focus on incontinence and sexual performance, rather than simply on survival. This change was the result of asking patients what most concerned them about their treatment.

“Outcomes are the actual results of care, which does include clinical measures such as survival rates and the complications during treatments,” Dr. Ackerman said in a recent interview. “But, outcomes that matter most to patients are how care affects their quality of life.” The clinic’s survival rate is the same as those using fee-based metrics but its erectile dysfunction rate is close to half and its incontinence rate is 85% lower than its counterparts.

When patient engagement is at the center of the treatment plan and outcome measures, rather than volume, are the focus of care, the quality and value of health care increases.

Value-Based Care in Autism

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. In the field of autism, each individual is unique and co-morbidities, from constipation to serious heart ailments, abound. That complicates diagnoses, treatment plans, and expected outcomes.

So how do we apply value-based reimbursement to the provision of care for autism? Some experts in the field believe the system would require dividing patients into age groups and determining the matrix of life skills they would need to develop.

For example, payment for services delivered to elementary-aged children would be determined by their development of social, communicative, and adaptive skills, while reimbursement for teenagers entering young adulthood would track with vocational skill acquisition. Other indicators might include quality of life, independent living skills, and self-determination.

The Many Benefits to Value-Based Healthcare

Better outcomes are just one benefit of value-based healthcare.  Because this model favors prevention, it has been found to require fewer hospital and doctor visits, fewer tests and procedures, and overall cost savings for the system. It also boosts patient satisfaction, as patient input is sought and incorporated into the treatment plan.

The value-based model would require providers to shift their service delivery to prevention, requiring more time per patient on the front end. It pays off in reduced time spent on managing chronic diseases. In the long run, the value is not just higher for patients, but for providers as well.

The long-run return also accrues to suppliers who will have the opportunity to realign their products and services with positive outcomes and long-term cost savings. The need for this is already critical as prescription drug prices continue to skyrocket and drain healthcare budgets of families and institutional payors like the U.S. government.

Are We Ready for Value-Based Healthcare?

The current system is so siloed among different types of providers, as if humans are simply the sum of their organ systems, each acting distinctly. A patient-centered approach could offer benefits on multiple fronts – notably good health and money saved – to individuals, corporate entities, and the system as a whole.

The fee-for-service model is highly entrenched, but its shortcomings are evident in ever-upward costs and desultory results. It will be interesting to see if proponents of value-based healthcare can overcome the barriers to change and overturn the status quo.

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