CMS Invites Quality Innovation Network-Quality Improvement Organizations to Submit Special Innovation Projects to Expand Their Reach in Improving Care Delivery

By: Patrick Conway, MD, MSc
Acting Principal Deputy Administrator
Deputy Administrator for Innovation and Quality
CMS Chief Medical Officer

Kate Goodrich, MD MHS
Center for Clinical Standards and Quality

Jean Moody-Williams, RN, MPP
Deputy Director
Center for Clinical Standards and Quality

Dennis Wagner, MPA
Director, Quality Improvement and Innovation Group
Center for Clinical Standards and Quality

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Quality Improvement Organization (QIO) Program is constantly evolving to help ensure that Medicare beneficiaries receive better care, better health, and greater value. Today, CMS is announcing the program’s next evolution: two projects focused on supporting and scaling quality improvement innovations.

With this announcement, Quality Innovation Network-Quality Improvement Organizations (QIN-QIOs) can collaborate with health care providers and/or partners to compete for 28 Special Innovation Project (SIP) awards that fall within two topic categories totaling $8 million.

SIPs are two-year quality improvement projects that align with the goals of the CMS Quality Strategy ( and emphasize the power of partnerships. There are two categories of SIPs for QIN-QIOs to consider:

  1. “Innovations that Advance Local Efforts for Better Care and Smarter Spending,” which will address healthcare quality issues that occur within specific QIN-QIO regions.
  1. “Interventions that are Ripe for Spread and Scalability,” which will focus on expanding the scope and national impact of a quality improvement project that has experienced proven but limited success. The expectation is that similar benefits would be experienced on a large scale if spread throughout the greater health care community.

The scalability category aligns with the CMS Strategic Innovation Engine (SIE) (, a new endeavor launched in August of 2015. The SIE is working to rapidly move innovative, evidence-based quality practices from research to implementation through the QIO Program. In consultation with the SIE Executive Leadership Council, CMS is seeking projects that:

  • Streamline patient flow in various health care settings, including hospital units, outpatient clinics, primary care offices, ambulatory surgical centers, and cancer centers resulting in efficiencies, improved satisfaction, decreased mortality, better care, healthier people, and smarter spending.
  • Work with health plans and/or care coordination providers to deploy an integrated approach to post-acute care that results in enhanced care management, safe transitions from one care setting to another, improved health outcomes, and reductions in harms.
  • Increase value, patient affordability, and appropriate use of specialty drugs by applying evidenced based criteria to prescribing practices and by monitoring effectiveness when providers have a choice(s) among equally effective drugs with differing costs.
  • Address acute pain management. For example, more is needed to assist sickle cell patients: from accurate identification of their illness to education of emergency department staff on sickle cell disease while addressing the cultural stigmas often associated with the disease.
  • Utilize big data analytics to reduce preventable harm in healthcare.

We encourage those in the larger healthcare community who are leading quality work in these areas, with interventions and proven results, to reach out and explore potential partnerships with QIN-QIOs. Through collaboration with healthcare providers, patients, families, and other key stakeholders, QIN-QIOs have tremendous potential to take those interventions to the national level and improve the health care delivery system by tapping into new settings of care and building upon the knowledge gained by people working on the front line of providing quality health care.

The QIN-QIOs selected to carry out these SIPs will leverage their data-driven approach, extensive partnerships, and the voices of patients and families to positively impact Medicare beneficiaries in their communities and nationwide.

The QIO Program’s 14 QIN-QIOs work with providers, community partners and beneficiaries on multiple data-driven quality improvement initiatives to improve patient safety, reduce harm, engage patients and families, improve clinical care and reduce healthcare disparities. For more information about the CMS QIO Program and for a complete list of QIN-QIOs, please visit the QIO Program website (

CMS Strong Start for Mothers and Newborns Strategy II Initiative Second Annual Evaluation Report

By Patrick Conway, M.D., CMS Principal Deputy Administrator and Chief Medical Officer

Today, we at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) are pleased to announce findings from the second annual evaluation report for the Strong Start for Mothers and Newborns Strategy II Initiative. As noted with the release of our first annual report, Strong Start Strategy II seeks to build on work conducted by the Partnership for Patients and Strong Start Strategy I to improve newborn health through a reduction in early elective deliveries. Babies are generally healthier and have better long-range outcomes when they are born full-term.  Strategy I contributed to a 64.5% nationwide drop in early elective deliveries from 2010 to 2013.

The Strong Start II (hereafter referred to as Strong Start) builds on this success through prenatal care enhancements addressing the psychosocial needs of pregnant women eligible for Medicaid and CHIP.  Strong Start is an important federal initiative geared toward testing innovative approaches to improve maternal and infant health outcomes in low-income families.

Research consistently shows that infants born preterm (before 37 completed weeks of gestation) have higher mortality risks and may endure a lifetime of developmental and health problems when compared to their counterparts born after 37 weeks’ gestation.

Prenatal care enhancements provided through Strong Start are designed to promote overall maternal and infant health and particularly to reduce incidence of preterm birth and low birth weight.  The second annual report presents the progress Strategy II has made since its inception.

Strong Start has continued its partnership with 27 organizations representing nearly 200 provider sites in 32 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.  The program continues to provide enhanced services through three approaches:

  • Group Care – Group prenatal care that incorporates peer-to-peer support in a facilitated setting for three components: health assessment, education, and support.
  • Birth Centers – Comprehensive prenatal care facilitated by midwives and teams of health professionals, including peer counselors and doulas.
  • Maternity Care Homes – Enhanced prenatal care at traditional prenatal sites with enhanced continuity of care and expanded access to care coordination, education, and other services.

Enrollment increased dramatically in the second year of program operations, with a total of 23,000 women enrolled from March 2013 to the end of the first calendar quarter of 2015. Enrollment is expected to continue to grow to more than 40,000 participants by the program’s end in February 2017.  Additionally, participants continue to express overwhelming satisfaction, with 90% stating that they were either very satisfied or extremely satisfied with their prenatal care.

In addition to their standard schedule of prenatal care visits, Strong Start participants receive enhanced care visits in accordance with their psychosocial needs.  Enhanced visits provide services such as care coordination, referrals to local resources, prenatal health education, and peer support.

Upon enrollment, Strong Start participants have several risk factors, including many pertaining to psychosocial needs:

  • Depression upon enrollment (nearly a quarter of participants report being depressed at intake)
  • Unstable housing
  • Unemployment
  • Unmet mental health and dental needs
  • Food insecurity
  • Unmarried or unpartnered status

Results from the second year evaluation indicate that, as was found in the first year, Strong Start participants have:

  • Lower rates of cesarean section than national averages, though there is wide variation among and within models
  • Higher rates of breastfeeding than national averages among similar populations

In addition, the new report finds that Strong Start participants have:

  • Overall preterm birth rates similar to national averages despite the high-risk population served
  • Lower preterm birth rates than national averages within racial-ethnic groups (Black , White, Hispanic)
  • Vaginal birth after cesarean rates that are nearly twice the national average

Although findings must be interpreted with caution because they are descriptive, we are pleased with what we have found thus far. Substantial progress was made during the second evaluation year in developing resources, particularly obtaining state Medicaid claims linked to vital records, which will enable development of a control group and an analysis of costs.  The third annual report is anticipated to contain analysis of further participant-level data, case studies based on site visits, and an initial analysis of linked data from states.

Much work remains to be done to reduce significant risks and complications for pregnant women and infants, but these early results from the Strong Start evaluation show promise for improving pregnancy outcomes.  We remain committed to working together to deliver higher quality care, smarter spending, and better health outcomes for low-income pregnant women and their newborns.

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