Q&A with PQA Director of Performance Measurement Ben Shirley

PQA’s talented staff is dedicated to improving medication safety, adherence and appropriate use. As experts in measure development, research, education and convening, they lead the implementation of PQA’s quality initiatives to support better medication use and high-quality care. This blog is one in a series profiling PQA's staff.

Ben Shirley is one of PQA’s directors of performance measurement. He provides expertise in several phases of the measure development process including specification, analysis, and consensus-based endorsement.

What is your role at PQA?

My role at PQA is Director of Performance Measurement. My role spans a variety of measure-related activities, from leading new measure development to supporting the maintenance of measures over time, to pilot projects, analytics, and more. I also work closely with the National Quality Forum and support the implementation of our measures in key programs like Medicare Part D, the Medicaid Adult Core Set, and more.

What are the problems you work to solve for PQA members?

Our members represent many different viewpoints and often have wide-ranging priorities for potential measure development. Sometimes, the measures our members want the most are the most challenging to develop. Whether it’s issues with the available data, nuances in the clinical evidence, or problems with usability, my job is to work with our internal team and the technical experts in our membership and beyond to determine the best path forward. Sometimes, that means overcoming these barriers. Other times, it means that the answer might not be a measure.

What is your background and what drew you to PQA?

I received my Bachelor of Science in Health Policy and Management from the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. After graduating, I worked in Washington, DC, for several years at a consulting firm on various CMS-related contracts. During that time, I gravitated towards quality measurement work and had the opportunity to work on both hospital and health-plan measurement. My desire to be at the forefront of quality and measurement science meant that PQA was a natural fit.

What do you most enjoy about working at PQA?

I enjoy the broad diversity of work that goes into quality measurement. I might work on measure testing and analytics, a clinical environmental scan and a technical expert convening, all in the same morning. I would be remiss not to also mention the fantastic team we have. Not only are they leaders in their respective disciplines, but they’re also exceptional people that make every day enjoyable.

Much of your work focuses on providing expertise in the measure development process. What is the most challenging part of measure development?

Patience! I tend to be a pretty fast-paced worker, but measure development takes time. PQA uses a systematic, transparent measurement process to ensure our measures meet the highest standards of evidence, scientific acceptability, feasibility and usability. This process yields excellent results, but it takes anywhere from 12-24 months to bring a measure across the finish line. Quality measures are high-impact policy tools, and they aren’t something that can be rushed. 

You lead PQA's National Quality Endorsement (NQF) activities. How does PQA's work intersect with NQF?

As a fellow national quality organization, NQF’s work naturally aligns with PQA in many ways. PQA and NQF are both consensus-based endorsement bodies. When PQA measures are planned for use in certain programs, PQA may seek NQF-endorsement in addition to PQA-endorsement to provide an extra degree of rigor and evaluation. However, it is a resource-intensive process, so our team is strategic when determining which measures ultimately seek NQF-endorsement. We also collaborate in other ways: for example, I currently serve on NQF’s Opioids and Behavioral Health Committee to provide PQA’s opioid measurement expertise and perspective.

You led the technical expert panel responsible for developing the Proportion of Days' Covered (PDC) Composite (Health Plan) measure. How do you see that measure being used in the future?

The PDC composite represents a valuable opportunity to provide a summary indicator of adherence focused on medications for the treatment of chronic conditions. Integration into a composite is a natural progression in the quality measure lifecycle. Over time we envision this measure potentially being implemented into programs where the individual measures are currently used.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?

I enjoy playing music and soccer in my spare time. I’m also an avid New England Patriots fan.


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