Set up the stage, grab the diplomas and put the finishing touches on your speech - it's graduation day.

Three cheers for the ACO graduating class of 2016

Set up the stage, grab the diplomas and put the finishing touches on your speech - it's graduation day.

Set up the stage, grab the diplomas and put the finishing touches on your speech – it’s graduation day.

Set up the stage, grab the diplomas and put the finishing touches on your speech – it’s graduation day. These individuals have worked so hard to get to this point, and have spent countless hours toiling away. Standing proudly in the line, waiting to walk across the stage, are dreamers and doers that want to make the world a better place. It hasn’t been easy, but they’ve made it so far and the future sure is looking bright.

Before you whip out your camera to snap a photo, realize that we’re talking about ACOs here, not college students. Accountable care organizations have come so far in the past year that it’s only fitting they’re given a little recognition this graduation season.

Before the university dean begins calling off a never-ending list of names, let’s take a minute to reflect on what ACOs have accomplished – and what lies ahead in their promising future.

ACOs on the rise 
Accountable care organizations once seemed like a radical idea. The healthcare industry is already complicated enough – how could you possibly get a myriad of different doctors, nurses, specialists and other staff members to coordinate care with each other? Well, ACOs are now a reality, and not just merely existing, but thriving.

celebrate With a great year behind them, ACOs have reason to celebrate.

As of April 2016, there were 838 active ACOs in the U.S., according to Health Affairs. The number of ACOs grew 12.6 percent over the last year, and for the first time ever, there are ACOs in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. This is an accomplishment to feel proud of, since just five years ago, there were a meager 64 ACOs in the country.

More ACOs means that more people are receiving the care they need. This graduating class of ACOs is now bringing care to 28.3 million people across the country, everywhere from major metropolitan centers to tiny rural towns – where ACO activity has in fact increased in the last year.

In addition to providing higher quality care, ACOs also save money, helping ease the burden on already-maxed out federal systems. In 2014, the organizations together saved $411 million for 333 Medicare Shared Savings Program ACOs along with 20 Pioneer ACOs, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Now, quiet please so the names of these graduating ACOs can be read. On second thought, 838 names will take quite a long time to read off, so let’s just move on to the next section.

Looking ahead 
Part of graduating is reminiscing about all the good times: the Frisbee games on the quad, the wild adventures with friends, the rowdy nights that stretched ’til morning. You’ve certainly grown a lot since you entered the hallowed halls of the school as an unsure freshman. But armed with knowledge and a newfound maturity, it’s also time to look ahead to the future, and ACOs have plenty to be excited about.

“Graduation is a time to look ahead, and ACOs have plenty to be excited about.”

There are several interesting trends emerging in the ACO field that will certainly be changing the landscape of care in the coming years. One is rural development and telemedicine, according to a report by the Center for Health Care Strategies, Inc. While ACOs can provide the safety net of care that large populations need, they can also be hugely beneficial for rural and remote areas, and a focus this year will be on expanding the “net” of ACO coverage. One way this will be done is through “virtual” ACO programs that allow providers to hone in on and respond to the specific needs of small communities. The development and application of telemedicine will also be essential to filling in the gaps of care for small or isolated populations.

Another development to look out for this year is customizing care strategies to fit specific care populations, CHCS noted. Many ACOs have been exploring ways to more effectively reach high-need, high-cost populations, and one way to do this is by increasing the scope of ACO care beyond just physical health. Some ACOs are partnering with local social services, mental health and behavioral health agencies to design a holistic approach to care that responds to the specific needs of a subpopulation.

This graduation season, ACOs should congratulate themselves on a job well done. As ACOs and health care networks continue to develop, electronic medical records systems that allow for interoperability and effective data exchange will be all the more vital to providing high quality, customized care to populations big and small. EMR systems optimized for compatibility will enable the best care for patients, wherever and whenever they need it. Contact Thornberry today to learn how your health care agency can benefit from Best in KLAS NDoc software.