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Episodes of care: theoretical frameworks versus current operational realities.

Rosen AK, Mayer-Oakes A. Episodes of care: theoretical frameworks versus current operational realities. Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement. 1999 Mar 1; 25(3):111-28.

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BACKGROUND: Fundamental changes in the structure of the health care industry have stimulated the need for improved definitions of output and for better methods of organizing utilization data into appropriate units. Although the "episode of care" concept has existed since the 1960s, its recognition as integral to the management of health care cost and utilization is relatively recent. Conceptually, episodes of care represent a meaningful unit of analysis for assessing the full range of primary and specialty services provided in treating a particular health problem. Proprietary episode software grouper products are currently being used by health care organizations for the purposes of provider profiling, clinical benchmarking, disease management, and quality measurement. DESCRIPTION OF EPISODE GROUPER SOFTWARE PRODUCTS: Four episode grouper products are described that use a computerized approach for developing episodes of care from administrative data. They are compared on several characteristics, including purpose, case-mix adjustment, comprehensiveness, and clinical flexibility. Their differences in episode construction, such as how the start points and endpoints of an episode are defined, are also delineated. CONCLUSIONS: Episode groupers are critical to the analysis of health care delivery, since they focus on the entire process of care. Although all the groupers reviewed have many strengths, much developmental work still needs to occur in order to standardize the measurement and operationalization of episodes of care as units of analysis. Furthermore, until the data sources used are more valid and reliable, they will at best remain gross screening measures of quality.

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