Healthcare News & Insights

CMS releases new 6-step plan to reduce care disparities

Medicare and Medicaid just celebrated their 50th anniversary. To commemorate the occasion, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has released a new four-year plan for hospitals and other healthcare entities to reduce disparities in health care for underserved populations. 

Medical-professionals-with-patientCMS unveiled the plan at a recent conference: Medicare & Medicaid at 50: Their Past, Present and Future Impact on Health Equity, according to a news release on the agency’s website.

Quality care for all

Specifically, the plan is targeted toward improving care for people of different races/ethnicities and sexual orientations, as well as people with disabilities.

The action plan has six critical steps for hospitals and healthcare providers to follow:

  1. Expand the collection, reporting and analysis of standardized data. The first step in improving population health is collecting the right data. Specifically, CMS wants better information about how patient demographics contribute to disparities in care. The agency plans to release evidence-based guidelines to standardize how providers obtain this data from patients. Technology such as electronic health records (EHRs) will play a large role in gathering this information.
  2. Evaluate the impacts of disparities and integrate solutions across CMS programs. CMS will be taking a closer look at how its programs are affecting care disparities. This likely means the agency will expect hospitals and other providers to report additional information about the outcomes for Medicare and Medicaid patients who are disabled, or of different races and sexual orientations. If this information reveals any significant disparities in care, the agency plans to revamp its programs in an attempt to solve the problem.
  3. Develop and disseminate promising approaches to reduce health disparities. This point relates to hospitals because CMS specifically said that one of its goals with this plan is to reduce readmissions rates in patients from vulnerable populations – especially those who have diabetes or cardiovascular disease. So the agency will use the data it collects from providers to create initiatives designed to reduce this problem. These initiatives will likely involve improving coordination of care after discharge using approaches tailored to the needs of racial minorities, sexual and gender minorities, and the disabled.
  4. Increase the ability of the healthcare workforce to meet the needs of vulnerable populations. Giving underserved patients better access to care is critical for reducing disparities. As a way to do this, CMS is considering expanding the roles of mid-level providers and community health workers so patients won’t have to solely rely on doctors for certain kinds of care. Hospitals will need to know about these changes so they can refer patients to the right resources to stay healthy after they’re discharged – and facilities may end up having a few more of these workers on staff.
  5. Improve communication and language access for individuals with limited English proficiency and people with disabilities. If patients and their families have a language barrier with healthcare providers and hospital staff, misunderstandings could lead to negative outcomes for their care. The same could happen with people who have low health literacy – or who have a disability that affects how well they hear or comprehend information. CMS will create a series of best practices hospitals can follow in these situations, which may include increasing the number of translators on staff or training providers to deliver health information using simpler terms.
  6. Increase physical accessibility of healthcare facilities. Sometimes care disparities occur simply because a person has limited mobility and can’t enter a doctor’s office. In fact, people with disabilities are less likely to get the preventive services they need – which could lead to a costly visit to the emergency department when something goes wrong. With that in mind, CMS will be looking at the physical accessibility of hospitals, doctors’ offices and clinics to see what changes need to be made to better accommodate disabled patients. The agency will also be checking whether facilities that have accommodations are fully compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

Hospitals need to make sure they’re prepared to work toward implementing CMS’ new standards. As a starting point, facilities will need to figure out how they’ll handle the potential administrative burden caused by collecting more demographic information about patients.

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