HealthcarePapers 15(3) January 2016 : 9-23.doi:10.12927/hcpap.2016.24469
Invited Essay

A Policy Framework for Health Systems to Promote Triple Aim Innovation

Amol Verma and Sacha Bhatia


With the expiry of the Health Accords, provincial governments must face the challenge of improving performance in the context of ageing demographics, increasing multi-morbidity, and real concerns about financial stability. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement Triple Aim articulates fundamental goals that can guide health system transformation: improved population health, enhanced patient experience and reduced or stable per capita costs. Advancing fragmented and costly health systems in pursuit of these goals requires transformative, as opposed to iterative, change. Provincial governments are ideally suited to lead this change by acting as “integrators” who link healthcare organizations and align incentives across the spectrum of delivery. Although there is very limited evidence regarding the effectiveness of system-level reforms, we draw on initiatives from around the world to suggest policies that can promote system-level Triple Aim innovation. We categorize these policies within the classic functions ascribed to health systems: financing, stewardship and resource generation. As healthcare financers, governments should orient procurement policy towards the Triple Aim innovation and reform payment to reward value not volume. As health system stewards, governments should define a Triple Aim vision; measure and report outcomes, patient experience, and costs; integrate across sectors; and facilitate learning from failure and spread of successful innovation. As resource generators, governments should invest in health information technology to exploit “big data” and ensure that professional education equips front-line clinicians with skills necessary to improve systems. 

There are a number of barriers to system-level Triple Aim innovation. There is a lack of evidence for macro-level policy changes, innovation is costly and complicated, and system reform may not be politically appealing. Triple Aim innovation may also be conflated with organization-level quality improvement initiatives. These barriers can be overcome with effective leadership. A mandate and funding to evaluate reforms can be built into laws. Innovation can be funded by shared savings and health gains. Reform may be more politically viable in the current climate of austerity. The Triple Aim framework offers aspirational and concrete objectives that should be integrated into the health system design by Canadian provincial governments to improve health system performance 



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