An Executive Q&A with Dennis Wagner

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As the new acting director for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Center for Clinical Standards and Quality, Quality Improvement Group (QIG), Dennis Wagner, MPA, is responsible for the Quality Improvement Organization (QIO) Program and End Stage Renal Disease Networks. In this role, he supports CMS’ mission to improve the effectiveness, efficiency, economy and quality of services delivered to Medicare beneficiaries. QIO News sat down with Wagner in November 2014 to find out what he envisions for the future of the Quality Improvement Organization (QIO) Program: 

You bring a unique perspective to CMS with your nearly 30 years of government service leading national and international public health campaigns. How has your background helped shape your current role at CMS? 

I’ve worked for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), and for the last four years, at CMS. I’ve worked in about a dozen positions and on a lot of different initiatives, including improving air quality, reducing environmental tobacco smoke, eliminating disparities in health status, increasing organ donations and more.

The common denominator in all of my years of service is an intense focus on bottom-line results. We are always seeking to generate significant national improvement that is objectively measured by results. Over the course of my career, what I’ve learned is that the people and communities of practice who are involved — in this case, QIOs and the providers and partners they work with — truly care about and know how to make a difference.

I want to team with QIOs, staff and other partners to collectively achieve bold goals, while encouraging and supporting flexible, creative, adaptive approaches to achieving these goals. My aim will be to empower and support both QIOs and ESRD Networks along with their healthcare provider partners to achieve better care and better health, at lower cost. I want to help unleash the experience, expertise and creativity of all those who aspire to make meaningful change and improvement.

What is your vision for the QIO Program over the next five years? 

The first thing that I’m looking to accomplish is to successfully carry out the work of the extraordinary leaders who came before me. Jean Moody-Williams, Patrick Conway, QIG and QIO leaders and staff — many committed people have put in place a powerful new organizational design and approach to our shared work. They have envisioned a new future for the QIO Program, and I know it’s a good one. I’m looking forward to teaming with QIOs to implement our shared design in ways that are highly effective.

Secondly, QIOs have the potential to lead the integration of health care assets at the community and regional level because they work in all parts of the health care system. One of the biggest problems we have is the coordination of care between settings. The health care system needs to do a better job of providing seamless, patient-centered care. QIOs are uniquely positioned to lead this type of cross-organization integration. My goal is to help QIOs team with other networks and initiatives like the Transforming Clinical Practices Initiative, Hospital Engagement Networks, Regional Extension Centers and others to integrate patient care among provider organizations. The 11th Scope of Work to tackle challenges and opportunities at the community level is a great example of a strategy designed to create connected systems of care through partnerships with others.

As a recent co-director of the Partnership for Patients, you’ve focused on and promoted patient and family engagement. How will the QIO Program continue to advance patient-centeredness and engagement under its new functional structure? 

When we bring patients and families into the mix, it transforms the conversations we have. Teaming with patient and family partners increases the urgency and relevance of the work we do, and at the same time, we learn to create better solutions. This is at the heart of why we focus on patient and family engagement. It can be messy at times, as it introduces a new dynamic, but it is transformative and the right thing to do. The systematic and authentic inclusion of patients in our work is key.

For the QIO Program, I know that patient and family engagement is not new. Moving forward, we will use our successes and results from the PFE work in the 10th Scope of Work to inform what we do in the future. Additionally, there are many health care organizations that have already learned how to effectively engage patients and families to improve care. I believe that we should strategically partner with these national organizations and local providers to align our work with proven approaches and practices. Let’s plan to do more of what is already working in this area.

Anything else you’d like QIO News readers to know? 

I have the highest regard for the QIO Program, QIO leaders and staff, and the people within CMS who have been part of this work for many years. My intent is to support, empower and encourage the community, and add value in every way that I can during this time of unprecedented change and opportunity.