The federal government laid out on Thursday final rules for a new program that aims to improve patient care by getting doctors, hospitals and other care providers to work together more.
Health care providers will be able to start forming accountable care organizations in 2012 to coordinate care, share records, and cut down on duplicative tests and medical errors. Providers will have to make a three-year commitment to care for a group of at least 5,000 Medicare patients if they form these organizations known as ACOs.
Care providers will receive Medicare reimbursement like they normally do, but they also have a chance to share in savings if the cost of caring for their patients comes in lower than expected.
President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, which aims to eventually provide health insurance for millions of uninsured people, calls for this approach to improve care quality. The ACOs will help doctors take a more holistic view of patient care instead of just focusing on what they are treating during a particular visit, said Jonathan Blum, a top Medicare administrator.
That means a patient's primary care doctor might work more with his or her cardiologist to review the patient's progress or make sure drug prescriptions don't conflict.
The Department of Health and Human Services also announced on Thursday a program that provides funding for some care providers to hire staff or upgrade their technology with electronic medical records in order to participate in ACOs.
Preliminary rules on these ACOs were first announced in the spring, and final rules came out Thursday after Medicare officials said they reviewed more than 1,300 comments on the concept.
Medicare is the federal health insurance program that covers the elderly and disabled people.