It can cut costs, improve care and even create a bond between staff and the patients they serve.
In other words, a little risk management goes a long way.
Just ask the winners of the eighth annual Excellence in Healthcare Risk Management Awards, cosponsored by MODERN HEALTHCARE and MMI Cos.
University of Pennsylvania Health System became the first academic medical center to win in the hospitals and health systems category, which had 18 entries this year. The system's health and disease-management program helped it save $8.4 million for one year and improve clinical outcomes-and patient satisfaction.
"Oftentimes it's the tertiary centers and academic medical centers that are the high-cost areas," says Teresa Wetzel, director of risk management at Group Health Plan in St. Louis and one of the contest judges. "They're in a good position to achieve some cost savings."
Phoenix-based Arizona Physicians IPA won in the health plans category for its innovative clothing "swap meet" approach to increasing immunizations among its Medicaid enrollees. Two health plans entered the competition this year.
"We were impressed with the sophisticated nature of the program despite (its) serving a Medicaid patient population," says Robert Montgomery, M.D., medical director at Meritcare Health System in Fargo, N.D., and one of the judges. "It's an extremely creative program. They really customized the program to the population."
Winning organizations receive a $3,000 prize, and the person who championed the program receives $2,000.
While this year brought the most submissions in the competition to date, the contest had no entries in the medical group practice/physicians category. Last year, there were no entries in the health plans category.
"We had a 20% response rate this year vs. 4% last year," says Anna Marie Hajek, executive vice president at MMI Cos., a Deerfield, Ill.-based risk-management, liability insurance and consulting firm.
The volume of entries this year made it harder to choose the winners, the judges say-so hard that they decided to award two honorable mentions.
Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee, the 1993 winner for overall risk-management program, earned an honorable mention in the hospitals and health systems category for reducing workers' compensation incidents.
"Florida State has entered the competition every year that it's existed," Hajek says. "This year, they got more creative. The graphs and the analyses they submitted were pretty sophisticated."
In addition to its win, Arizona Physicians IPA also picked up an honorable mention for its perinatal risk-management program. It was the first time one organization had entered two categories.
"This shows the organization is really focused on patient population in both programs," Wetzel says.
Honorable mentions do not receive a monetary prize.
MMI officials were not surprised that the organizations honored reflected the results of MMI's 12-year data report of clinical practice and outcomes. The data report, released this summer, uses information from MMI's clients to show how risk-management techniques affect an organization's bottom line.
"These organizations are paying a lot of attention to data, because it helps them understand how to improve," says Pam Lockowitz, president of MMI Risk Management Resources, an MMI subsidiary. "They are working with a high-risk population and focusing on care. They're coming up with a systematic way to get them care and measure the results, and that's what the 12-year report is all about."
By following perinatal-care guidelines, for example, the average cost per liability claim plunged to $3,000, 73 times less than the $219,000 cost when no guidelines had been followed.
The report is based on data gathered from MMI's hospital clients from 1985 to 1997. Lockowitz says the report underscores that a rules-based approach to managing risk can substantially reduce costs and improve outcomes.
It also shows that as providers assume more risk, they naturally become more interested in risk management.
"Financial success is tied to the outcomes (providers) receive," Lockowitz says. "This kind of data needs to be on the desks of major executives and in the boardroom. Just think about all the troubles providers are having moving into a managed-care process. It's a whole different world for them."