US Physician Practices Spend More Than $15.4 Billion Annually To Report Quality Measures

By Lawrence P. Casalino, David Gans, Rachel Weber, Meagan Cea, Amber Tuchovsky, Tara F. Bishop, Yesenia Miranda, Brittany A. Frankel, Kristina B. Ziehler, Meghan M. Wong and Todd B. Evensong
Health Affairs, March 2016

Abstract

Each year US physician practices in four common specialties spend, on average, 785 hours per physician and more than $15.4 billion dealing with the reporting of quality measures. While much is to be gained from quality measurement, the current system is unnecessarily costly, and greater effort is needed to standardize measures and make them easier to report.

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The number of quality measures directed at US health care providers by external entities such as Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurance plans has increased rapidly during the past decade. These measures, such as rates of mammography screening for women or of testing for cholesterol or hemoglobin A1c levels for diabetes, are used to provide publicly reported information for patients and as a basis for financial “pay-for-performance” incentives to physicians. At least 159 measures of outpatient physician care are now publicly available. The movement toward accountable care organizations, the federal Sustainable Growth Rate “fix” legislation, and the private-sector Catalyst for Payment Reform coalition will further emphasize measurement of physician performance.

Anecdotally, dealing with these measures imposes a considerable burden on physician practices in terms of understanding the measures, providing performance data, and understanding performance reports from payers, but the extent of that burden has not been quantified. We present results from a national survey of practices representing three common physician specialty and multispecialty practices.

From the Study Results

On average, physicians and staff spent a total of 15.1 hours per physician per week dealing with quality measures, with the average physician spending 2.6 hours per week and other staff spending 12.5 hours.

By far the most time — 12.5 hours of physician and staff time per physician per week — was spent on “entering information into the medical record ONLY for the purpose of reporting for quality measures from external entities.”

The time spent by physicians and staff translates to an average cost to a practice of $40,069 per physician per year.

From the Discussion

There is much to gain from quality measurement, but the current system is far from being efficient and contributes to negative physician attitudes toward quality measures. Improving the system rapidly will be difficult. Obstacles include the fragmented US health care system, lack of interoperability across EHRs, lack of EHR functionalities to facilitate retrieval of data for quality measures, the cost of change to external entities and to providers, and opposition from vested interests. Increasing efforts to reduce the number of measures and to standardize their use across external entities are being made by the National Quality Forum, the Institute of Medicine, and America’s Health Insurance Plans, as well as by federal agencies such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Our data suggest that US health care leaders should make these efforts a priority.

http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/35/3/401.abstract

Quality measures in health care have proven to be burdensome, consuming excess resources in both time and money. This study quantifies those costs.Not only do these quality games waste resources, they have become a significant contributor to physician burnout.

Wouldn’t it be far better to devote these extra resources to improving access to actual health care for the uninsured and underinsured who are now being all too often left out? It would be automatic under a single payer Medicare for all program.