Accountable Care Organizations Seek to Repeat Kaiser’s Success

Date: 05.15.2013 | Zach Urbina">Zach Urbina


In the face of recent critical reports of the accountable care organization movement, the New York Times ran an article in their business section that highlighted the provider model that paved the way for accountable care to come into existence. The organization in question was of course Kaiser Permanente, which long ago began investing in electronic health records (EHR) and focused their efforts on overall patient wellness, positive health outcomes, and fixed, transparent pricing.

Kaiser’s model has taken years to develop and billions in investment in their EHR infrastructure. In the process, they’ve demonstrated a commitment to cost savings and engaging patients to take the responsibility of care into their own hands.

“Over the course of the last 15 years, they’ve been just going into high gear and doing everything right,” said Dr. Thomas S. Bodenheimer, a health policy expert at the University of California, San Francisco who recently chose Kaiser as his own health plan.

Despite the strides that Kaiser has made at modernizing its organization and inspiring other hospitals and health systems to do the same, many challenges remain. The Times article discusses the ongoing effort to improve populations who struggle with obesity and potential scalability issues with the Kaiser model.

While accountable care organizations have in their triple aim many of the goal Kaiser has successfully achieved, much remains to be told about the eventual achievement of those goals.

Patients in the US have a lax relationship with the quality of their care, in many case adopting a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. While the US spends more than any other nation on the cost of care, the quality of health outcomes and the expected longevity of US citizens trails many other technologically advanced countries, including Japan, Germany, Canada, and the UK.

Also unknown is whether or not the 1990s health maintenance organization (HMO) movement of the 1990s will repeat itself in the still-forming world of ACOs.

Another point of possible contention is that the vast majority of Kaiser’s patients reside in the state of California. The health of the rest of the country varies substantially, state-by-state, and the kind of outcomes that Kaiser has been able to achieve may or may not be able to find footing in certain geographic areas.

All this being said, it seems apparent that many ACOs are looking to Kaiser as a provider with both longevity and success on its side.  The New York Times reported that Kaiser generates $50 billion in annual revenues from 37 hospitals and employees 17,000 staff physicians. At that size, their achievements will likely remain a model for many others with similar goals.

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