Harvard Study Finds ACOs Lead to Better Health Care

It’s the formula health care reforms have been drumming up since the passing of the Affordable Care Act: organizations that play together, report higher satisfaction in delivery of care services, according to recent research from the Harvard Medical School Department of Health Care Policy. 

And for patients with multiple chronic conditions, their satisfaction with Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) was higher than any other group, notes the findings published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers compared patients’ experiences in a group of 32,334 Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries in ACO groups with the sentiments of a group of 251,593 beneficiaries attributed to other providers, before and after the star of ACO contracts.


Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) survey data that covered three years before and one year after the start of Medicare ACO contacts in 2012 were used in the study. 

In the first year, ACO contacts were associated with “meaningful improvements” in certain measures of patients’ experiences, researchers concluded.

Specifically, patients’ reports of timely access to care and their primary physicians being informed about specialty care improved in the ACO group, as compared with those in the non-ACO group. Patients’ ratings of physicians and interactions with them, along with overall care, did not differentially change.


Among patients with more than one chronic condition, overall ratings of care improved in the ACO group as compared with the control group.

Researchers noted that differential improvements in timely access to care among ACOs moved from the 86th to the 98th percentile, while overall ratings improved from the 82nd to 96th percentile.

View an abstract of the study. 

Written by Jason Oliva