Welcome to the MedMetrics Blog

The MedMetrics blog provides comments and insights regarding the world of Workers’ Compensation, principally, issues that are medically-related. The blog offers viewpoints regarding issues affecting the industry written by persons who have long experience in the industry. Our intent is to offer additional fabric, perspective, and hopefully, inspiration to our readers.

Search The MedMetrics Blog

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

How to Manage Medical Provider Networks in WC

by Karen Wolfe

David DePaolo posted a response to the CWCI’s[1] recent study of the use of networks in California and their related savings entitled “MPN Means Managed”.[2] The CWCI study compares three network formats in California since the year 2000: PPO’s 2000-2002, the transitions years from PPO’s to MPN’s, 2003-2008, and MPN”s 2009-2011.  “While the use of the networks to medically manage treatment of work-related injuries has fulfilled the legislative intent to encourage network use, over time the MPN’s have not lowered the cost of medical care.”[3]

DePaolo says medical cost savings is only part of the picture. MPN’s need to be managed because the medical impact on other aspects of claims such as disability, indemnity, return to work, and other factors is significant.

So true. But if networks mean managed—the question is how?

Networks can be managed only by evaluating and monitoring individual performance.

Network—a sum of its parts
A network is the sum of its parts, the parts being the physicians and other medical providers in the network. A network cannot be managed as a whole. Each individual medical provider acts independently and with differing results. Moreover, each provider, even within groups or facilities, acts independently. Consequently, they must be evaluated and managed individually.

Since networks began in Workers’ Comp back in the 1980’s, their rationale has been discounting services to create savings. Units of service are discounted and portrayed to payers as savings. The assumption is that all medical providers are equal and all offer equal, quality medical care. But no one checked.

Evaluating provider performance
No one checked because it was easier to claim savings through discounts than to evaluate the performance of individual medical providers in the network. Evaluating medical performance is especially tricky in Workers’ Compensation because in addition to cost and medical treatment factors there are elements unique to the industry that must be considered. Indicators of quality performance are many and varied and they can be found in the data.

Quality indicators 
Quality indicators include medical treatment indicators such as direct medical costs, prescriptions, surgery, hospitalization, and medical procedures analyzed by injury type. Non-medical performance indicators that are influenced by medical providers include return to work, indemnity costs, and legal involvement, along with ultimate outcome indicators such as claim closure and disability ratings at the close of the claim.

The way to manage networks is to Identify the best providers and monitor their performance.

Objective evaluation 
The data necessary to evaluate medical provider performance, particularly physician performance, can be found in bill review data, claims system data, pharmacy data, and the utilization review system. Unfortunately, the data resides in different silos, but by combining the data from these sources at the claim level, individual provider performance can be measured. 

Because the data reflects actual treatment and events, it is objective and quantifiable. Select quality indicators in the data, adjust for case mix, and keep them constant over time.

Swapping discounts for quality
Medical costs have increased to 60% of claim costs, calling into question the benefit of network discounts. The truth is medical providers long ago learned how to overcome the cost of discounts by increasing treatment frequency and claim duration, as well as prescribing expensive procedures, among other tactics. Discounts on more looks like more savings.

Going forward, the major hurdle in managing networks effectively is to de-emphasize discounts, while underscoring and rewarding quality performance. In order to make that financially feasible for the networks, a different approach to discounting should be entertained. For instance, those providers who rate highest in quality performance would be excused from discounts. Likewise, those performing the worst would be discounted the most.

Managing the network
To manage a network, the performance of individuals within it must be evaluated and monitored continually. No longer does it suffice to sign up providers for the network and walk away. When individual provider ratings slip, action should be taken. Moreover, let providers know they are being monitored. It has been proven that observed performance leads to behavior change.

Karen Wolfe is the founder and President of MedMetrics®, LLC, a Workers’ Compensation medical analytics and technology services company. MedMetrics analyzes the data and offers online apps that super-charge medical management by linking analytics to operations, thereby making them actionable. MedMetrics also analyzes and scores medical provider performance. karenwolfe@medmetrics.org

[1] California Workers’ Compensation Institute. http://www.cwci.org/research.html

[2] D. DePaolo. MPN Means Managed. DePaolo’s Work Comp World. June 10, 2015. https://www.workcompcentral.com/depaolo/index/post/1670487372170531417

[3] Ibid.