Emergency Department Involvement in Accountable Care Organizations in Massachusetts: A Survey Study

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Study objective:We assess Massachusetts emergency department (ED) involvement and internal ED constructs within accountable care organization contracts.Methods:An online survey was distributed to 70 Massachusetts ED directors. Questions attempted to assess involvement of EDs in accountable care organizations and the structures in place in EDs—from departmental resources to physician incentives—to help achieve accountable care organization goals of decreasing spending and improving quality.Results:Of responding ED directors, 79% reported alignment between the ED and an accountable care organization. Almost all ED groups (88%) reported bearing no financial risk as a result of the accountable care organization contracts in which their organizations participated. Major obstacles to meeting accountable care organization objectives included care coordination challenges (62%) and lack of familiarity with accountable care organization goals (58%). The most common cost-reduction strategies included ED case management (85%) and information technology (61%). Limitations of this study include that information was self-reported by ED directors, a focus limited to Massachusetts, and a survey response rate of 47%.Conclusion:The ED directors perceived that the majority of physicians were not familiar with accountable care organization goals, many challenges remain in coordinating care for patients in the ED, and most EDs have no financial incentives tied to accountable care organizations. EDs in Massachusetts have begun to implement strategies aimed at reducing admissions, utilization, and overall cost, but these strategies are not widespread apart from case management, even in a state with heavy accountable care organization penetration. Our results suggest that Massachusetts EDs still lack clear directives and direct involvement in meeting accountable care organization goals.

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