Conditions of Participation – Quality Improvement

Maybe the most frustrating element of Quality Improvement for us has always been that there is not a clear definition.  One agency may ‘QA’ notes as they come in but never go any further.  Another may collect data on countless areas of concern but never put into place a plan for improving those areas.  There are those agencies with a program that is great but so complex and time consuming that it never gets done.

All of that is changing.  Effective January 18, 2018, agencies must meet specific criteria in their Quality Assurance as written into the new Conditions of Participation.  The Condition reads as follows:

(484.65) The HHA must develop, implement, evaluate, and maintain an effective, ongoing, HHA-wide, data driven QAPI program.  The HHA’s governing body must ensure that the program reflects the complexity of its organization and services; involves all HHA services (including those services provided under contract or arrangement); focuses on indicators related to improved outcomes, including the use of emergent care services, hospital admissions and re-admissions; and takes actions that address the HHA’s performance across the spectrum of care, including the prevention and reduction of medical errors. The HHA must maintain documentary evidence of its QAPI program and be able to demonstrate its operation to CMS.

The short version:

  1. Your agency must have a QA program that is based on data
  2. It must reflect the complexity of the agency and include all services provided.
  3. Focus on indicators related to improved outcomes including:
    1. Adverse Events
    2. Use of emergent care services
    3. Hospital admissions and readmissions
  4. Takes action to address performance across the spectrum of the agency
  5. The agency must document its program and be able to show compliance to CMS.

This is not hard.  It does require time and buy in from employees in every department of the agency.  Agencies who invest the resources to make this happen will find themselves at the top of the list for star ratings and be every referral source’s darling.  But, it will not happen unless and until senior leadership in the agency buys into the process. With Gusto.

The standards that will be surveyed to determine compliance are similarly easy, but they are comprehensive.  Here they are  (paraphrased):

The agency must be capable of showing improvement in indicators for which there is evidence that health outcomes, care and patient safety will improve when action is taken to address those indicators  In other words, the indicators chosen by your agency must be useful.

And agencies must measure, analyze and track indicators, including adverse events and other aspects of performance that enable the agency to assess processes of care, services and operations.  Simply put, agencies will review data related to their chosen indicators to determine if their plans are working and the plan must include the frequency at which data is collected.  The governing body must approve the frequency of data collection.

Standard – Program Data

The agency must use data from OASIS when applicable as well as other relevant data in the design of its program to:

  1. Monitor effectiveness of service and quality of care
  2. Identify opportunities for improvement

The governing body is the person or group of persons who assume full legal authority and responsibility for the agency’s overall operations.  Ultimately, the buck stops at the governing body.  They write checks and approve budgets.  They can veto decisions.  It may be the owner of a small agency or a group of executives appointed by the boards of publicly traded companies.  Think CEOs, CFO’s and any other person with a job title beginning with a capital C.

So, the Governing body approves the data that will be collected as well as the frequency.  That means that if the data is not collected or is useless or does not result in improvement; ignorance on the part of the governing body will not be an acceptable excuse.  Truly, it never was acceptable but now it is in writing.

Medicare has already given agencies three indicators they expect to see written into the Quality Assurance plan; hospitalizations, emergent care and adverse events.  You’re halfway there but to be effective means determining why patients are visiting the hospital and receiving emergent care.  You already have much of that information in your transfer assessments.  You should know what percentage of your patients are hospitalized because of falls, wounds, medication errors, etc.  If more than a quarter of your patients are going to the hospital for unknown reasons, it could be that the clinicians completing the assessment aren’t taking the time to find out.  Now is the time to instill the importance of taking the effort to get the information required to complete a transfer assessment.

Potentially Adverse Events must be investigated, and action must be taken to prevent future occurrences.  This is not new but is overlooked with an alarming frequency.  Adverse Events retrieved in OASIS reports often have diminished value due to of the age of the data, but you can investigate Adverse Events as they happen while all staff involved with care are still employed and memories are still fresh.  The names of the Potentially Avoidable Events are self-explanatory, and a list provided to staff who complete discharge assessments or billing audits may be useful for identification prior to generating an outdated report.

Monitored Measures to Demonstrate and Track Sustained Improvement

For all activities undertaken to improve quality of care by the agency, there must be measures that are monitored to demonstrate improvement and track sustained improvements. It is a common occurrence for education to yield immediate results for a brief period of time with a return to baseline after a few weeks.

Performance Improvement Projects

Agencies must conduct performance improvement projects. The number and scope of distinct projects must reflect the scope, complexity and past performance of the agency.  Documentation will include a description of the project, the underlying reason for undertaking the project and measurable achievement.  The nature of the project is up to the agency but it must be related to data that has been and will be collected.

Governing Body Responsibilities

Finally, the governing body is responsible for ensuring that:

  • An ongoing program is defined, implemented and maintained
  • The Quality Assurance activities address priorities for improved care and patient safety and that all actions are evaluated for effectiveness.
  • Clear expectations for patient safety are established, implemented and maintained
  • That any findings of fraud or waste are appropriately addressed.

Regarding fraud and waste, the interpretive guidelines go on to say:

In the event that the HHA identifies a possibly illegal action by its employees, contractors or responsible/relevant physicians, it is the responsibility of the HHA to report the actions to the appropriate authorities according to the individual State laws and the nature of the action(s).

I have taken liberties with the actual language.  The full text of the new Conditions of Participation can be found here.  Ultimately it is the responsibility of each agency to understand the CoP’s and we hope we are able to help you.  But we are not now and never will be a substitute for any regulatory body or document.

Next up in the new Conditions of Participation is Infection Control which will be discussed in detail next week.  For now, agencies will do well to pull all relevant OASIS reports and outcomes so that a plan can be put in place.

As always, if you need help implementing the new Conditions of Participation, you know who to contact.

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