In it, Darren Schulte MD of Alere points out that expectations for the PCMH are very high. Its value proposition includes reversing the decay of primary care, meeting the consumerist needs of an aging population, increasing quality and securing additional practice income. A growing body of evidence suggests that the more successful PMCHs have 1) a dedicated non-physician patient coordinator, 2) expanded in-person and virtual patient access, 3) health information technology that includes a functioning registry and point-of-care decision support and 4) increased practice income. Without these key ingredients, PCMHs have an uphill battle managing a population of patients, building a team-based culture and marshaling resources to change patient behavior.
Enter disease management vendors, although Dr. Schulte prefers to use the politically correct term "population health management organizations" (PHMOs) They have decades of experience in patient education, monitoring, self management, treatment adherence and care coordination. Despite physician skepticism and a cultural bias that favors "build" over "buy," he argues that PCMHs may find PHMOs attractive not only because they're speaking the same language, but because their services are "plug n' play" and highly adaptable across a wide variety of small to large settings. All that needs to be worked is out how PHMO support will be paid for so that the PCMH succeeds.
Enter Dr. Greg Sharp of Ideal Family Healthcare in Woodland Park, CO . He notes that health insurers have a key role to play because they're not only providing the additional monthly payments for the PCMH, but they're being called on to support health information technology solutions and provide work-flow consultation services. Since insurers are very involved anyway, he implies that it's not a great leap form them to also facilitate the sponsorship of PHMOs in the PCMH network. Once that happens, he sees few barriers standing in the way of PCMH team members virtually working with remote or in-person PHMO health coaches, accessing the PHMO's registries and relying on PHMO decision support tools.
The acronym addled DCMB likes this description of how insurer sponsored PHMOs can help PCMHs. For a fiduciary and risk-bearing health insurer, the DMCB agrees that the road to patient behavior change, prevention and savings in medical homes may run through disease management. The DMCB suspects many primary care practices won't necessarily want to create (training the non-physicians in behavior change and coaching?) or be able to afford (buying the hardware and programming expertise to create a fully functioning registry?) all the features of a fully transformed PCMH. Calling it "PHMO" instead of using the scorned term "disease management" will also increase its acceptability.
Smart health insurers will recognize that there will be primary care sites that want to go their own way in establishing PCMHs. That's fine. For those primary care sites that may not have the resources or the inclination to build a fully functioning PCMH, bringing in a "population health management organization" vendor is a good Plan B. That disease management Plan B is a rose that by any other name still smells as sweet in the science of increasing quality and optimizing costs.