What the Heck is an ACO?

How can I identify an Accountable Care Organization, organized delivery system, or medical group that provides care coordination?

It can be difficult for the average patient to determine if a doctor’s practice is part of an Accountable Care Organization or organized delivery system since the business structures that support patient-centered care are often not apparent to the patient.

The Council of Accountable Physician Practices (CAPP) is a consortium of physician groups whose mission is to provide quality, coordinated care. CAPP has determined that the some combination of the following attributes might identify this type of organization:

  • Doctors of many specialties are working together, and you have a good choice of doctors in the group so you can find one that works best for you.
  • You have easy access to specialists because they work within the medical group or are effectively linked to the group; this reduces delays in receiving care and facilitates easier care coordination.
  • All doctors–primary care and specialists–have access to your electronic medical records and can share information through a confidential electronic computer system. In the most integrated systems, the electronic medical record is also available at the hospital.
  • You receive supportive services and preventive care (health educators, nurses, nutrition counseling, etc.) easily and directly from your doctor’s office.
    The group uses medical teams to allow for 24-hour access to medical services and this team also has access to your full medical record.
  • It is easy to get labs, X-rays, physical therapy and other services because many of these services are located within or near your doctor’s office and may also share information and computer systems.
  • The group regularly conducts surveys rating the care patients receive from the medical group or doctor. This indicates that the medical group is assessing the quality of care patients receive so that the group and its doctors perform their best and are held accountable for delivering high quality care.

Here is a useful guide to help you determine if your doctor or medical group is striving to provide accountable, coordinated care: “5 Questions to Ask About Your Doctor.”

And here is a list of medical groups and health systems who are members of the American Medical Group Association, all of which are striving to become high-performing healthcare systems that provide accountable care.

Here is a useful guide.