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    Four questions to ask about healthcare benchmarking

    Benchmarking is necessary in every industry, especially when it comes to strategy and planning. In healthcare, the comparison of a practice’s performance with an external standard is a tool facilitators use to motivate team members to engage in improvement work. It’s important for a group to understand where their performance falls in comparison to others while stimulating healthy competition that helps members of a practice reflect more effectively on their own performance.

    When you’re doing a great job executing and driving better outcomes, your scores become a badge of honor for your institution. You can post them for the world to see. Not just that, but let’s remember that benchmarking can affect funding and directly impact your bottom line. Hospitals close if they’re not meeting minimum benchmarks, especially for critical metrics like readmission rates.

    Successful strategy leaders look to industry benchmark data to map out where they want to take their service line, practice or institution in the months and years to come. By applying the multitude of data to your strategic plan for success, members of your organization will be more willing to commit to execution and you’ll be able to track your results.

    From my work with healthcare strategy leaders on plan execution, I’ve seen thousands of plans and compiled some best practices to aid a healthcare organization in creating a plan using benchmarking data to move measurements in the right direction.

    Why is benchmarking important?

    We sit in the realm of uncertainty today when it comes to Affordable Care Act (ACA) reform and value-based care, benchmarking is going to become especially imperative for planning. Accountable care organizations (ACOs) that meet quality benchmarks and keep spending for their attributed patients below budget receive half the savings that result, and the rest goes to CMS, which administers the program.

    Beginning in 2012, the ACA established the Medicare Shared Savings Program to encourage the development of ACOs, made up of healthcare providers—from primary care physicians and specialists to hospitals and post-acute care facilities. As of 2015, there are more than 400 Shared Savings ACOs serving nearly 7.2 million beneficiaries, or 14% of the Medicare population. In 2013, just 52 of the 220 Shared Savings ACOs met quality-of-care benchmarks and kept spending below budget targets, but that alone generated $700 million in total savings and about $315 million in Shared Savings bonuses.

    As more major healthcare legislation works its way through the branches, benchmarking will provide some solid footing and direction for future growth.

    Which measures should you focus on?

    Every practice is different, but there are some common threads in the way you’ll need to go about choosing the most important measures for your group. To identify the areas of clinical performance you want to assess, ask your team. Involving front-line employees as well as leadership-level employees will help establish a broader picture of success indicators as you compile input.

    The areas of clinical performance chosen should then connect to the improvement goals the quality improvement (QI) team has set. Aligning daily tasks with overarching initiatives will induce a stronger feeling of teamwork and motivation to execute.

    Lastly, you need to ensure the measurements you choose also sync up with any mandates from the funder. Once all of your measurements are picked with these stakeholders in mind, you can expect a greater level of execution and commitment to your strategic plan.

    Common sources for performance measures are the Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS), quality indicators developed by the National Committee for Quality Assurance and criteria selected by health plans.

    Where can I find benchmarking data?

    There are lots of sources for healthcare industry benchmark data, but one of the first places to check are local quality collaboratives. Community clinic associations are known to host these local efforts, allowing different practices to collect performance data and compare it against each other. Multi-organization QI projects are often tied to community clinic associations where data is gathered about a particular condition, and then the data is similar enough to benchmark across the participating practices.

    Other sources to consider include required data reports to Federal agencies and funders, like the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Uniform Data System reports. Those, for instance, are required from all Federally Qualified Health Centers. State and local health and public health agencies are also potential resources for comparison data, as well as the National Committee on Quality Assurance and other national associations.

    Becker’s Hospital Review is also a great resource to find up-to-date benchmarking. They include system-level and service-line level data, so you can drill down to see what’s most important to you. Check out their 2017 Benchmarking Report to get started.

    Next: What comes after benchmarking research?


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