The Choosing Wisely initiative is, despite its flaws, an necessary cultural shift in medicine towards reducing low-value expenditures. In a fee-for-service health system, and given the complicated financial framework associated with training and reimbursing physicians, noble endeavors such as these face significant challenges.
Regardless, many specialties – including ACEP – have published at least one “Top 5” list of recommended practices to improve value. The ACEP Choosing Wisely list, while certainly reflecting sound medical practice, are of uncertain incremental value or applicability over current practice. Additionally, the methods and stakeholders involved remain opaque. Luckily, in a coincidental parallel, Partners Healthcare embarked on an unrelated internal process to improve the affordability of healthcare and reduce costs. This study provides a transparent look at a such a process, as well as the ultimate findings.
Using an expert panel, 64 potential low-value care practices were identified in a brainstorming session, subsequently narrowed down to 17. Then, 174 physicians and clinical practioners responded to a web-based survey, ranking the value of each. Based on this feedback, then, the original expert panel voted again on a final “Top 5”:
- Do not order computed tomography (CT) of the cervical spine for patients after trauma who do not meet the National Emergency X-ray Utilization Study (NEXUS) low-risk criteria or the Canadian C-Spine Rule.
- Do not order CT to diagnose pulmonary embolism without first risk stratifying for pulmonary embolism (pretest probability and D-dimer tests if low probability).
- Do not order magnetic resonance imaging of the lumbar spine for patients with lower back pain without high-risk features.
- Do not order CT of the head for patients with mild traumatic head injury who do not meet New Orleans Criteria or Canadian CT Head Rule.
- Do not order coagulation studies for patients without hemorrhage or suspected coagulopathy (eg, with anticoagulation therapy, clinical coagulopathy).
It always surprises me to see these lists – which, essentially, just constitute sound, evidence-based practice. That said, given my exposure primarily to an academic, teaching environment, rather than a community hospital environment concerned with expediency and revenue generation, these may be larger problems than I expect. This list also does not address the estimated cost-savings associated with adherence to these “Top 5” best practices. While many of these may result in significant cost-savings through reductions in imaging, the yield would be variable based on the quality of care already in place.
Regardless, this list is as much about the derivation process itself, rather than the resulting “Top 5”. Certainly, the transparency documented in this study is superior to the undocumented process behind ACEP’s contribution. That said, this list ultimately reflects the biases and practice patterns of a single healthcare network in Massachusetts; your mileage may vary. Many of the final “Top 5” had overlapping confidence intervals on the Likert Scale for benefit and actionability, suggesting a different survey instrument may have provided better discrimination. Finally, while we are culturally enamored with “Top 5” lists – all 64 of their original set are important considerations for improving the value of care.
We, and all of medicine, have a long way to go – but these are steps along the right path. It is also critically important we also (wisely) choose our own destiny – rather than wait for government or insurance administrators to enforce their misguided priorities upon our practice.
“A Top-Five List for Emergency Medicine: A Pilot Project to Improve the Value of Emergency Care”