Accountability for quality in managed care.

The Joint Commission journal on quality improvement

PubMedID: 9868615

Donaldson MS. Accountability for quality in managed care. Jt Comm J Qual Improv. 1998;24(12):711-25.
It is often difficult to understand where responsibility lies for monitoring and improving quality in managed care. From 1996 through 1998 a group of individuals convened by the Institute of Medicine's (Washington, DC) National Roundtable on Health Care Quality developed a model of accountability for the quality of care provided by managed care organizations (MCOs). Each of three overarching forms of accountability (professional, market, and regulatory) has a set of tools for imposing accountability and-because accountability relationships are not self-enforcing-sanctions for failures of accountability.

Fiduciary relationships in medicine are an essential part of any quality accountability mechanism, and it will be important to maintain the strength of the professional model in the changing health care system. Yet it is not easy to preserve the strength of the professional model in an MCO environment in which professionals are not dominant, and there is likely to be increasing pressure to weaken their autonomy.

The primary assumption of market accountability is that consumers will select options based on perceived value to them and will make new choices based on their information and experience. Market accountability requires choice among competing providers and information to inform choice. In health care, however, individuals rarely have the information they need and often do not have choice. Accountability for quality generally has not been a major feature in contracts.

There is a widespread perception of defects in a market-based health care system. Many believe there is a need for a regulatory structure to correct market failures. The use of regulation to impose accountability for quality requires that a regulatory framework, penalties for violations, and effective enforcement mechanisms are all established. PUBLIC GOODS: The model of accountability for quality in managed care does not promote public goods such as education, research, public health, or care for the uninsured. Indeed, the locus of responsibility to the community when markets fail to supply these public goods is controversial. Nevertheless, such responsibility should be considered by MCOs and policy makers.

Given market-driven models of health care financing and delivery, it might be feasible and desirable to encourage collaboration among MCOs to improve quality, whether at the national or local market level. The health professions in general, and the medical profession in particular, are and must be accountable to society for providing leadership in the development of knowledge about effective medical care, in defining high-quality care, and in advocating for and improving the quality of care.

Establishing effective accountability for quality involves multiple entities and many different kinds of accountability relationships. The three forms of accountability interact, and all operate at once.