Solutions for Filling Gaps in Accountable Care Measure Sets

Gaps in accountable care measure sets can be addressed efficiently using priority measure types and innovative approaches to measurement.
Published Online: October 09, 2015
Tom Valuck, MD, JD, MHSA; Donna Dugan, PhD, MS; Robert W. Dubois, MD, PhD; Kimberly Westrich, MA; Jerry Penso, MD, MBA; and Mark McClellan, MD, PhD
Take-Away Points
Measurement in accountable care programs is essential for promoting quality improvement and balancing financial incentives. This study examines gaps in current accountable care measure sets and proposes solutions to fill those gaps. 
  • Gaps exist in accountable care measure sets for every condition, even for conditions that are partially addressed in a measure set. 
  • Gaps cannot be completely addressed with measure types and strategies currently in use. 
  • Effective means of covering gaps include increased use of cross-cutting, outcome, and patient-reported measures. 
  • Layered and modular approaches to implementing measure sets would allow for more comprehensive and flexible measurement.
Accountable care systems, including accountable care organizations (ACOs), along with other value-based approaches to delivery and payment, have proliferated in the public and private sectors.1 Accountable care is focused on increasing the value of care; that is, improving quality while decreasing costs.2,3 Accountable care systems are implementing innovations in care delivery, including better monitoring systems, decision support tools, care coordination capabilities, and team-based approaches to care that are enabled under flexible new payment models. One of the tools available to promote higher value care is measurement.

Accountable care measure sets are tied to performance-based payment arrangements that reward providers for improving quality and avoiding waste. Waste includes underuse, which could lead to avoidable complications and costlier care overall, as well as overuse and misuse of resources. Measures are also important for balancing financial incentives. Program implementers can use measures to gauge the impact of accountable care reforms, which may be particularly important for high-cost conditions and treatments.

Outcome measures are preferred for assessing accountable care systems because they provide information about the results of care that is meaningful to patients, payers, purchasers, and policy makers.4,5 Cross-cutting measures that address multiple conditions and composite measures that aggregate multiple processes and/or outcomes offer the advantage of assessing many aspects of care simultaneously, thereby improving measurement efficiency. Process measures, which evaluate compliance with care guidelines, provide actionable information to support provider improvement.

Gaps in measure sets represent missed opportunities for monitoring system performance, providing transparency to consumers and purchasers, and encouraging improvement in quality and cost of care. Ideally, meaningful measures would be available for all conditions and dimensions of care, but that would subsequently increase the burden of data collection for providers and could distract them from quality improvement efforts. Understanding the best approach to more efficient and effective measurement—including new measure types and innovative approaches to measurement—would benefit from a comprehensive view of measurement gaps.

This study explored the breadth and depth of gaps in accountable care measure sets and identified methods for improving such measure sets by using preferred measure types and by adopting novel models for applying measures.

Methodology and Key Findings

Our study included an analysis of measure gaps for specific conditions and a 1-day, multi-stakeholder roundtable discussion of national thought leaders to review the analysis and inform the conclusions. To explore gaps in accountable care measure sets, we selected 20 high-priority conditions. We then conducted a literature search for lists of high-impact conditions from authoritative sources, such as the National Quality Forum and the CDC. These lists included conditions that are either highly prevalent, leading causes of death, costly for patients, or financially and administratively burdensome to the healthcare system. Based on the search, we compiled a list of conditions which represents a diverse range of patient demographics (eg, age, gender, acute and chronic conditions, primary and specialty care) and anticipated cost drivers (eg, specialty drugs, surgery, imaging, hospitalization).

The list includes conditions that have been the historical focus of performance measurement (eg, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, influenza); that primarily affect the elderly (eg, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, glaucoma, stroke); that primarily affect children (eg, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder); that affect each gender (eg, breast cancer, prostate cancer); that are related to behavioral and mental health (eg, major depression); and that require specialty pharmaceuticals or advanced imaging (eg, chronic kidney disease, hepatitis C, HIV, multiple sclerosis [MS], rheumatoid arthritis, low back pain).

We applied a 6-step analysis to each condition to identify key gaps between clinical practice guidelines and accountable care measure sets. For this comparison, we selected the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP)6 and National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) ACO Accreditation7 measure sets. In step 1, we identified diagnostic and treatment goals for each condition using evidence-based clinical practice guidelines from nationally-recognized sources, such as medical specialty societies and patient advocacy groups. In step 2, we compared the care goals for each condition with the measures in the ACO sets and identified measures that either directly or indirectly addressed the care goals. In step 3, we identified care goals that were not covered by the ACO sets as measure gaps. In step 4, we scanned various databases for measures that would cover the gaps identified in the ACO sets. In step 5, we identified opportunities for measure development to fill gaps that were not addressed by available measures. In step 6, we reviewed the gap assessment results across all 20 conditions to identify cross-cutting gaps and inform new measurement solutions.

For each condition, we identified a number of care goals defined by clinical guidelines that were not assessed by measures currently available in either the MSSP or NCQA ACO measure sets.8 Although treatment for some chronic diseases (eg, diabetes, hypertension) were assessed in both sets by several process and fewer outcome measures, other conditions (eg, MS, HIV) had no measures relevant to treatment or health outcomes. Eighteen of the 33 measures in the 2015 MSSP set are outcomes—including patient-reported Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) survey measures and admission/readmission measures—and 13 of the MSSP measures directly apply to 10 of the conditions on our list. Thirteen of 40 measures in the NCQA ACO set are outcomes—including resource use measures—and 23 of the NCQA ACO measures directly apply to 12 of the conditions on our list.

We found cross-cutting measures in the ACO sets that indirectly covered important aspects of care for a range of conditions simultaneously. These include the CAHPS survey measures (eg, functional status, communication, access to care) and non–survey-based wellness and prevention measures (eg, body mass index [BMI], tobacco screening and follow-up, immunizations).

We identified measures available outside the ACO sets that could be used to fill gaps; however, the majority are process, not outcome, measures (Figure 1). We also found aspects of care that are not assessed by any available measures, which represent opportunities for measure development. Gaps requiring development included measures of health risk assessment, monitoring for disease progression, and referrals to nonphysician services such as physical or behavioral therapy. For MS, we found no measures.


Our findings illustrate the scope of quality measurement gaps in accountable care for many high-priority conditions. Whereas our analysis does not evaluate the impact of these gaps, the importance of measurement in accountable care arrangements implies missed opportunities and possible risks that could be addressed through better quality measurement systems. Extrapolating our findings to the universe of conditions—or even just high-priority conditions—illustrates the difficulty of attempting to address every important measure gap with the same types of measures and current approaches; it would require hundreds of measures and would be impractical, costly, and burdensome. The results demonstrate the need to use priority measure types and novel strategies to efficiently address these important gaps in measurement.

Preferred Measure Types

Leveraging use of current measures and developing better measures would help to fill gaps related to the most important opportunities for improvement. As Figure 1 depicts, relatively few outcome measures are available; however there are outcome measures that have been tested and endorsed but are not being used, including measures of functional status or rates of avoidable adverse events. The recent inclusion of the depression remission measure to the MSSP ACO set is a positive step by CMS toward the increased use of outcome measures. Additional patient-reported outcome measures that are available, such as health status and symptom control measures, should be included in measure sets to assess what matters most to patients. Where development of new measures is required to fill gaps, resources should be directed toward development of outcome measures, including patient-reported outcomes.

Cross-cutting measures enable efficient assessment of quality of care across multiple conditions as well as to evaluate important aspects of care for conditions that are not directly addressed. Cross-cutting measures include patient engagement (eg, shared decision making, education); population health (eg, BMI, smoking cessation); and care coordination/safety (eg, readmissions, medication management). However, large gaps in available cross-cutting measures remain, including patient self-management capability, activity level, and assessment of environmental factors that affect health.

Measurement Strategies to Fill Critical Gaps

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