National Quality Leader Margaret O’Kane Addresses Racial Inequities at Quality Leaders Forum

The COVID-19 pandemic has been shocking for many reasons, but “what has been most shocking is the differential impact on people of color,” according to Margaret O’Kane, president and founder of the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA). 

Ms. O’Kane, who is also a member of the National Academy of Medicine, was the featured speaker at the third meeting this year of UHF’s Quality Leaders Forum.  She highlighted gaps in data on race, ethnicity, and language that need to be addressed as well as the need to create incentives for advancing health equity by the benchmarking and transparent public reporting of provider and health plan performance on metrics. 

The Quality Leaders Forum is a network of emerging and established quality leaders committed to improving health care in the greater New York area. Ms. O’Kane’s talk focused on the current state of the quality enterprise and promising directions for supporting health care transformation and greater alignment of health plans, health systems, and other providers.

According to Ms. O’Kane, the pathway toward much-needed progress requires full integration of electronic health data across settings, making that data available at the point of care, reducing the administrative burden on providers, and tracking outcomes to identify intervention strategies that work. Then, providers can learn how to improve from actual practice. 

Progress on equity measures has been slow. NCQA’s Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set, known as HEDIS, includes measures designed to create a better understanding of where improvements can be made on several significant public health issues. However, just 6 of 71 total HEDIS quality measures are stratified by race, ethnicity and language, or socioeconomic status and disability. This represents a major gap in the quality enterprise’s toolbox for addressing health equity, she said. 

Ms. O’Kane said the key challenge with gathering these data is completeness, and that to address disparities complete data on race, ethnicity, and language are a must. 

She also described NCQA’s telehealth agenda and taskforce on telehealth policy, which helped create consensus on data flow, care integration, and quality measures for tech-enabled care. NCQA adapted some of its HEDIS measures to account for the use of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms. O’Kane emphasized telehealth’s contribution to improved access but also noted its potential to fragment care. 

Her future vision for health care’s digital transformation would connect and integrate all key stakeholders (e.g., patients, practices, payers, health systems, government) and make a learning health system possible.

Participants in the forum, organized in collaboration with Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA), include alumni from the UHF/GNYHA Clinical Quality Fellowship Program and honorees from UHF’s Tribute to Excellence in Health Care. Members are invited to network and discuss current issues in health care quality with nationally recognized quality leaders and to pursue opportunities for sharing best practices.

United Hospital Fund is grateful to Elaine and David Gould, whose generosity supports the Quality Leaders Forum.

Dec. 21, 2020
Focus Area
Quality and Efficiency
Quality Institute