Nursing Homes: Federal Actions Needed to Improve Targeting and Evaluation of Assistance by Quality Improvement Organizations - GAO Report
|Date:||May 29, 2007|
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Quality of care
In 2002, CMS contracted with Quality Improvement Organizations (QIO) to help nursing homes address quality problems such as pressure ulcers, a deficiency frequently identified during routine inspections conducted by state survey agencies. CMS awarded $117 million over a 3-year period to the QIOs to assist all homes and to work intensively with a subset of homes in each state. Homes' participation was voluntary. To evaluate QIO performance, CMS relied largely on changes in homes' quality measures (QM), data based on resident assessments routinely conducted by homes. GAO assessed QIO activities during the 3-year contract starting in 2002, focusing on (1) characteristics of homes assisted intensively, (2) types of assistance provided, and (3) effect of assistance on the quality of nursing home care. GAO conducted a Web-based survey of all 51 QIOs, visited QIOs and homes in five states, and interviewed experts on using QMs to evaluate QIOs.
Although more homes volunteered to work with the QIOs than CMS expected them to assist intensively, QIOs typically did not target their assistance to the low-performing homes that volunteered. Most QIOs' primary consideration in selecting homes was their commitment to working with the QIO. CMS did not specify selection criteria for intensive participants but contracted with a QIO that developed guidelines encouraging QIOs to select committed homes and exclude those with many survey deficiencies or QM scores that were too good to improve significantly. Consistent with the guidelines, few QIOs targeted homes with a high level of survey deficiencies, and eight QIOs explicitly excluded these homes. GAO's analysis of state survey data confirmed that selected homes were less likely than other homes to be low-performing in terms of identified deficiencies. Most state survey and nursing home trade association officials interviewed by GAO believed QIO resources should be targeted to low-performing homes. QIOs were provided flexibility both in the QMs on which they focused their work with nursing homes and in the interventions they used. Most QIOs chose to work on chronic pain and pressure ulcers, and most used the same interventions⎯conferences and distribution of educational materials⎯to assist homes statewide. The interventions used to assist individual homes intensively varied and included on-site visits, conferences, and small group meetings. Just over half the QIOs reported that they relied most on on-site visits to assist intensive participants. Sixty-three percent said such visits were their most effective intervention. Of the 15 QIOs that would have changed the interventions used, most would make on-site visits their primary intervention. Homes indicated that they were less satisfied with the program when their QIO experienced high staff turnover or when their QIO contact possessed insufficient expertise. Shortcomings in the QMs as measures of nursing home quality and other factors make it difficult to measure the overall impact of the QIOs on nursing home quality, although staff at most of the nursing homes GAO contacted attributed some improvements in the quality of resident care to their work with the QIOs. The extent to which changes in homes' QM scores reflect improvements in the quality of care is questionable, given the concerns raised by GAO and others about the validity of the QMs and the reliability of the resident assessment data used to calculate them. In addition, quality improvements cannot be attributed solely to the QIOs, in part because the homes that volunteered and were selected for intensive assistance may have differed from other homes in ways that would affect their scores; these homes may also have participated in other quality improvement initiatives. Ongoing CMS evaluation of QIO activities for the contract that began in August 2005 is being hampered by a 2005 Department of Health and Human Services decision that QIO program regulations prohibit QIOs from providing to CMS the identities of homes being assisted intensively.