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Data-driven health care reform

Researchers collaborate with Arizona providers to improve health outcomes for Medicaid patients

Researchers at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions have received a $2 million grant from Arizona’s Medicaid agency to evaluate and improve the quality of care for thousands of the state’s Medicaid patients. 

Health Solutions professors William Riley and George Runger will work with approximately 150 Arizona clinics, hospitals and criminal justice organizations over the next three years to better integrate primary care and behavioral health services. The ASU team will provide timely performance measure reports with the goal of improving the care for patients who are enrolled in the state Medicaid program administered by the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS (pronounced “access”), as it is more commonly known. 

Measuring and reporting the quality of health care is not a new concept. Several organizations annually evaluate health care providers, including the federal government with its Medicare and Medicaid star rankings and U.S. News & World Report’s best hospital ratings. However, simply ranking health organizations doesn’t necessarily lead to quality improvement. 

“Most of the data used in these rankings is ‘black box,’ or hidden from, and largely unavailable to, the organizations that are being ranked, so they have no opportunity to undergo continuous performance improvement, which is a hallmark of a highly reliable system,” Riley said. 

In contrast, the participants in this project will be part of a Quality Improvement Collaborative, or QIC, and will review their data regularly while it’s still possible to improve. “This means that rather than waiting up to a year and a half to receive feedback on their performance, they will receive information within two to three months,” Riley said.

Clinicians and administrators from each of the participating health care organizations will form collaborative peer groups that meet monthly with AHCCCS officials and Health Solutions researchers to review their data and adjust processes to improve patient outcomes. The Center for Health Information and Research (CHiR), the college’s long-established health data collection agency, which Runger directs, will integrate and prepare data reports for each QIC member as well as create web-based dashboards for them to regularly monitor their progress.

The scope of the grant also includes a needs assessment and the establishment of quality improvement benchmarks as well as ongoing professional learning.

This research is part of AHCCCS’s Targeted Investments Program, a $300 million, five-year plan that funds initiatives to make Arizona’s health care system less fragmented, more cost-effective and focused on quality outcomes. Project participants are part of this TIP network and represent a wide range of providers from both rural and urban Arizona communities. 

In addition to Riley and Runger, the research team includes College of Health Solutions assistant professors Mac McCullough and Katie Pine who will assist with data analysis, project evaluation and QIC implementation. The team will hold a kickoff event for participating providers at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus later this month. 

Top photo courtesy of Envato Elements

Kelly Krause
krkrause@asu.edu