What Payment Reform Means for the Frontline Health Care Workforce

It is well recognized across the health care industry that the major goals of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) include not only expanding health insurance coverage, but also improving the quality of care and the patient health care experience. A key strategy in achieving these goals is improving the efficiency and delivery of care through innovative financing mechanisms and new delivery models, such as Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), patient-centered medical homes (PCMHs), bundled payments for acute and post-acute care, and population-based models that aim to improve the health of entire communities. These alternative models emphasize quality and outcomes, while moving care away from the traditional and predominant method of fee-for-service (FFS).

The Frontline Work Force
Many conversations focused on the implementation of these models typically emphasize the role of physicians. However, the success of these models relies heavily on the support and manpower of a multidisciplinary team; particularly "frontline health care workers." Frontline workers may include medical assistants (MAs), medical office assistants, pharmacy aides, and health care support workers. Oftentimes, they provide routine, critical care that does not require post-baccalaureate training.

For example, MAs can play an important role in a medical home model. Upon discharge from the hospital, frontline workers can provide direct outreach to patients that are at high risk for readmission, and discuss any lingering symptoms, worsening of conditions, or medication issues. If necessary, MAs can assign a high-risk patient to a social worker, care coordinator or nurse.

In a team care environment, frontline health care workers are essential for taking over routine tasks and allowing physicians to employ their specialized skills on their most complex patient cases, which allows all team members to work at “the top of their license”.4Frontline workers can also bridge the gap between patients and a multitude of providers and specialists; help deliver care that is culturally and linguistically appropriate; and provide critical patient education and outreach outside of regular office visits. 

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