Although no one would argue that paying attention to quality is a mistake, some believe that “mint-on-the-pillow” efforts could distract people from focusing on what really matters: The quality of the medical care they receive.
“We start to emphasize parking, nice meals, but we're not really paying attention to how good the care is,” said Arthur Caplan, director of the medical ethics division at New York University.
Others argue that focusing on patient experiences helps capture the caring dimension of healthcare.
“These kinds of things matter a lot to feeling you've gotten healthcare that's personalized for you, and that your experiences and interactions are taken seriously,” said Rachel Grob, director of national initiatives at the University of Wisconsin's Center for Patient Partnerships.
In Washington state, the Bree Collaborative warranty is one element in a larger effort to reform how doctors and hospitals get paid. The group recommends bundled payments for some surgeries that cover a whole episode of care, from preoperative doctor visits through postoperative rehabilitation. The collaborative recommends bundled payments and warranties for five types of surgery: total knee and total hip replacements, lumbar fusion operations, coronary artery bypass and bariatric surgery.
To date, there have been no warranty claims under the Bree program. Participation by employers and hospitals in the bundled payment and warranty model is voluntary. The first contract that includes a financial warranty started in January and covers public employees who receive a total hip or total knee replacement at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Weir said.
In addition to its Bree work, Virginia Mason incorporates bundled payments with limited warranties for some of its larger, more progressive employer clients, said Dr. Robert Mecklenburg, medical director at the Virginia Mason Center for Health Care Solutions.
The motive behind the Bree Collaborative is to reduce avoidable hospital readmissions by aligning payment for care with quality rather than the number of services provided, Weir said. These themes have cropped up with growing frequency in healthcare, adopted to varying degrees by providers, employers and government healthcare programs like Medicare.
The Bree warranty covers very specific complications that are considered directly related to the operation. For hip and knee replacements, for example, hospitals that participate would agree to hold patients and health plans harmless financially if the patients got pneumonia, sepsis or had a heart attack within seven days of the surgery. Within 30 days, the warranty would cover wound infections, surgical site bleeding and pulmonary embolisms. Patients and insurers would be protected for up to 90 days if they develop an infection around the artificial joint or if the joint suffers a mechanical failure.
If a complication arises during the warranty period that is directly attributable to the initial procedure, the Bree warranty recommends that there would be no charge for hospitalization related to that care, even if care extended beyond the warranty period, Weir said.
The collaborative is revising its current recommendations, Weir said. One change will be to eliminate “death” from the list of 30-day complications under the warranty.
“You can't really warranty against death,” she said.
Had a hip replacement warranty been in place when Radach had her surgeries, she would likely have saved a lot of money.
Radach believes that surgical warranties should be even more comprehensive than Bree recommends, holding manufacturers responsible for the production of safe and effective devices. For now, she said, the current warranty is reasonable.
“Starting with a warranty for the procedure itself and the hospital care is a good start,” she said.