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3 Trends for ACO Leaders to Watch in 2024

As risk-bearing organizations gear up for 2024 and Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) continue to see growth, several key trends emerge to keep in mind. By preparing for these themes now, organizations can set themselves up – and the patients they serve – for success in the new year. 

Emphasis on Data and Analytics

The trend continues toward data and analytics to drive tools to support risk-bearing organizations in delivering on health equity. For example, the Accountable Care Organization Realizing Equity, Access, and Community Health (ACO REACH) model will require participants to document the actions taken to reach their stated health equity goals. As such, groups with data-informed analytics and analysis tools already in place can more easily adapt to the regulations, while others will need added effort to catch up in the new year. 

During 2023, ACOs could implement documentation about health equity plans without facing penalties if the programs they leveraged did not deliver in practice on stated health equity goals. As such, the past twelve months offered a pseudo trial run for groups to roll out programs and adjust as needed to ensure their endeavors translated to numbers regarding health equity. 

Greater Focus on SDoH

Like data and analytics, the focus on Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) continues to grow. With the move towards health equity, SDoH comes even more into play. For example, considering if a person lives in a food swamp — with ample fast food and limited healthy options – versus living in a food desert – with minimal access to grocery stores or food in general – makes a difference in the kind of interventions that a care manager might allocate to most help the patient. As such, risk-bearing organizations are ever-increasingly focusing on social risks for particular patients and addressing them in the care plan rather than a one-size-fits-none approach to treating comorbidity. 

Given the importance of correctly flagging SDoH, risk-bearing organizations are increasingly sourcing relevant, adaptable tools to support them. In particular, platforms are growing in demand that can accurately identify SDoH risk factors facing a given patient and provide targeted intervention recommendations accordingly to help ACOs successfully address health equity

Emphasis on Primary Care

The new year will continue to bring a focus back to delivering quality primary care. This trend requires risk-bearing organizations to provide tools to support their providers so they can deliver quality treatments to their patients. For example, technology that integrates with organizations’ current workflows to alleviate some administrative burdens can help providers greatly, such as platforms to flag SDoH for particular patients or to identify relevant social risks for a specific patient so the provider does not have the added burden of screening for SDoH risk factors. 

Lessons Learned in 2023

As risk-bearing organizations adapt to these trends in 2024, they can additionally benefit from considering two key lessons learned in 2023:

  1. Keep it Simple: addressing SDoH risk factors doesn’t have to be complicated. When implementing health equity plans and strategies, build on what is already in place. Technology can play a significant role in identifying the most vulnerable populations, which can help in aligning and allocating resources to meet their specific needs. This can also help identify any gaps in the services provided and create opportunities to partner with other service providers to ensure that everyone receives the necessary support.
  2. Continuous Iteration: effective health equity plans and strategies should incorporate updated recommendations based on new data. Achieving health equity is a marathon, not a sprint, and successful risk-bearing organizations will pivot health equity plans and strategies on an ongoing basis as new information arises about their patient populations.

Reflecting on the previous year’s lessons and anticipating trends for 2024 can help risk-bearing organizations start the new year strong. Those groups that do can expect to see the proof in their numbers: improved health outcomes for their patients as well as increased ROI for the risk-bearing organization.

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