Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Closing the Performance Gap in Palliative Care by Reducing Clinical Variation

The Dartmouth Medical Atlas gives us a compelling portrait of the variations in practice in late-life care. It also offers insights into the palliative performance improvement opportunities in communities.

How wide are the variations? Let’s take a look at Charlottesville, Virginia, an area of about 100,000 residents, with an academic medical center and a community hospital, a large not-for –profit hospice, and plenty of smaller hospices. According to the DAI Palliative Performance Profile (drawn from the Dartmouth Medical Atlas), Charlottesville earned a B grade for its late-life care practices. Respectable, for sure, but short of exemplary. What’s the difference between respectable performance and that of the top 10% performers? Consider the following: in Charlottesville, 32% of Medicare decedents died in a hospital. That’s better than the state average, yet 25% higher than residents of a community in the top 10%. In other words, a Charlottesville resident is 25% more likely than a resident of a high-performing community to die in a hospital than at home. That same Charlottesville resident is 40% more likely to have spent 7 days or more in a hospital during the last six months of life than someone in a top-performing community. Considerable room for improvement, I think you'd agree, and yet Charlottesville's performance is better than most communities across the nation.

Tightly integrated delivery systems have proven to be the most effective in reducing clinical variation. Because of their structure, these delivery systems are adept at disseminating evidence-based practices. It is time that hospice and palliative care leaders accelerate collaborative efforts to create networks with greater potential to reduce clinical variation in late-life care. What better opportunity for HPM specialists to take the lead?


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