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CMS Unveils Web Site, QIO Goals to Improve Quality

By John Reichard, CQ HealthBeat Editor

August 5, 2011 -- The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a new Web site Friday designed to give consumers speedier access to information they can use to compare the quality of hospitals, nursing homes, home care agencies, health plans and doctors.

Agency officials said they have also updated data on an existing website devoted to hospitals in an effort to help consumers compare facilities. And they’ve added new information, including how well hospitals guard against infection during outpatient surgical procedures.

In a third step to prod providers to improve the quality of their treatment services, the agency outlined a fresh set of goals for the “QIOs”—the independent organizations that contract with Medicare to improve the quality and efficiency of care under the program.

The new Web site ( pulls together onto a single site information to compare hospitals, nursing homes, home care agencies, dialysis facilities, doctors and health plans. For example, consumers can compare hospitals based on death rates, readmissions, and whether facilities give recommended treatments for conditions like heart attack and pneumonia.

Patients and their families can compare nursing homes based on measures including how effectively they control pain; home care agencies on the various services they provide and how effectively they care for wounds; dialysis facilities on their control of anemia; and doctors on their clinical training, the languages they speak, and whether they accept Medicare rates as payment in full. And they can see how well Medicare health plans and prescription drug plans stack up against each other on their costs and benefits covered.

CMS is continuing to operate individual websites in each of these spheres. But the new site is a reminder of the breadth of quality information that can be obtained and also provides consumers with a one place to go for such information.

In addition to uploading fresh performance data on existing hospital quality measures, CMS is offering new data comparing how well outpatient departments protect patients from surgical infections and the extent to which they use proven lifesaving treatments for heart attacks.

Friday’s updated data provides death rates for people within 30 days of their leaving the hospital and of readmission rates within that period. The conditions involved are heart attack, heart failure, and pneumonia.

CMS Administrator Donald M. Berwick said that the new information also shows gains in the way hospital patients themselves rate their own care. Berwick cited “modest but meaningful improvements” in this area.

Under the new three-year-plan announced Friday, CMS will put QIOs to work to meet the goals of its Partnership for Patients program. That initiative aims to cut medical conditions acquired in the hospital by 40 percent by 2013. The partnership’s other goals are to reduce readmissions 20 percent by 2013, which would prevent the rehospitalization of 1.6 million hospital patients. Last but not least its goal is to save 60,000 lives over three years. CMS recently announced that 2,000 hospitals are now participating in the partnership. 

The three-year plan is known in the QIO world as the “10th Scope of Work.” CMS contracts with 53 independent QIO contractors in each of the states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. They work closely with patients, nurses, and doctors in various health care settings to change treatment practices to improve quality and safety.

“The QIOs represent a kind of national force for change,’’ Berwick said, He called them a “tremendous resource for our country in terms of helping organizations improve. A fact sheet on the new objectives said that “through large-scale learning networks, QIOs will accelerate the pace of change and rapidly spread best practices.”

Other specific QIO goals include “improving care transitions,” said Jean Moody-Williams, director of the CMS Quality Improvement Group. This is designed to help assure that patients get the care they are supposed to as they move from hospital to home, or to another health care setting. In addition, “we are very interested in prevention, in care for populations in communities,” Williams said. “Thus we’ll be doing things such as improving the rate of influenza vaccination, and colorectal cancer screening.”

Separately, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced Friday that its facilities are included in CMS hospital quality ratings. “Veterans, stakeholders, and the general public will be able to directly compare the mortality rates and readmission rates at individual VA medical centers against non-VA hospitals” for heart attack, heart failure, and pneumonia, the department said in a news release.

John Reichard can be reached at [email protected].  

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