Sunday, March 31, 2002

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. - Disease management (DSM) programs have been earning a reputation for boosting the health of those with chronic illnesses and slashing healthcare costs, but there's been one problem: they lack outside standards.

Accreditation powerhouse JCAHO made a move to change that in mid-February with a first-of-its kind disease-specific care (DSC) certification, according to Maureen Connors Potter, JCAHO's executive director of the DSC.

"The industry needs verification from an external organization that DSM programs are safe programs," she said. "It needs verification that these programs can fulfill the promises of high quality of service and cost efficiency."

Potter said JCAHO's DSC certification aims to single out those programs.

To obtain the certification, Potter said a DSM program must show it does five things for patients with chronic illnesses such as asthma, diabetes and congestive heart failure (CHF):

- Promote self-management;

- Emphasize patient education;

- Use national clinical guidelines;

- Gather performance data, including financial outcomes; and

- Improve the health of patients.

Potter said JCAHO's standards were developed after a year of working with a 25-member advisory council comprised of healthcare practitioners. JCAHO also put the standards before 20 user groups, as well as the public during a comment period in December, and conducted pilot studies with nine organizations, she said.

JCAHO awarded its first DSC certification to the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services clinical resource management (CRM) program a week after its debut. To date, Potter said she's received 800 inquiries.

That's not surprising. DSM programs have become an increasingly popular treatment method, as chronic illnesses eat up a larger and larger piece of the healthcare pie. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates patients suffering from asthma, diabetes and CHF account for $400 billion in healthcare costs annually. HME