Healthcare News & Insights

3 ways organizations can embrace the future of population health

“Population health” has evolved into a health management concept that can help improve patient outcomes. For facilities that haven’t hopped on the population health bandwagon yet, Marc Helberg, managing VP of a consulting firm, provides three tips that can help them understand what goals they should aim for and what technologies they should incorporate.

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Over a decade ago, the term “population health” was little more than a buzzword. Today, however, it dominates much of modern health care. For example, we now know more about how demographics and social determinants of health make Eastern Europeans six times more likely to die from heart disease than their counterparts in Western Europe.

The concept of population health clearly isn’t new, but technological advances over the last 15 years – think artificial intelligence or the health-related applications we use every day – have propelled it to the forefront of local and global healthcare initiatives. We now have a much clearer picture of how certain health concerns affect entire swathes of populations and the resources needed to overcome these issues.

The more we integrate emerging technologies into the healthcare system, the more advanced our understanding of population health will become. We will also be able to treat segments of the population with greater efficiency than ever before.

How tech helps with data and treatment

We know that population health involves so much more than treatment from healthcare institutions. Genetics, living environments, socio-economic conditions and factors like these can also impact the health of any given population segment. Today, gathering and understanding data on these factors – and applying the best treatment – is possible thanks to advanced technology.

For instance, now that certain aspects of care management can be automated, outreach efforts through voicemail, email and text message are extremely effective ways to remind patients of upcoming appointments. Research from Athenahealth revealed that when patients were reminded of their doctors’ appointments by text message, there was only a 4.4% no-show rate. On the other hand, the patient group that received no reminder saw 10.5% no shows. As no-show percentages vary widely based on factors, such as insurance coverage, type of care and city, text reminders could have a big impact on treating population segments.

In addition, patients can become more involved in their care with the increased use of online health portals. Patients and members of their care team can now access up-to-date information about their health from just about anywhere. This allows patients a say in their treatment, too: McKesson reports that the 77% of hospitals that use portals allow patients to request amendments to their data.

Accessing health care has also become easier for those who previously couldn’t. According to the American Hospital Association, nearly 20% of the U.S. population lives in rural areas; for them, hospitals are few and far between. Rural patients can access health care, however, using remote, real-time and interactive telehealth capabilities.

All of these technologies make it possible to collect and analyze vast amounts of data about population health and empowered patients. Thanks to this, 35% of providers plan to implement dashboards and scorecard systems to visualize relevant data and trends among patient populations. This is only the beginning.

3 ways to ensure better care across populations

For providers that have yet to take advantage of these technologies, focusing on population health might not seem as pressing. It’s no longer a trend, though, and the ability to manage population health with ease will soon become a defining characteristic of excellent health care.

These three tips can help organizations understand what goals they should aim for and what technologies they should incorporate in their strategies

1. Collect and understand your data

Are you tracking overall trends, treatment and outcomes?

Big data’s role in population health can’t be overstated, and it’s important to know what data should be collected before implementing any new strategies. For example, data should focus not only on understanding patients’ medical conditions and social determinants of health, but also on improving the quality of their care.

Collecting and making sense of the right data can be daunting for an inexperienced organization, so many choose to partner with larger institutions or trusted data companies. For example, Sanford Health partners with several other organizations and academic partners to store and share data for large-scale collaboration.

2. Use electronic health records to track compliance

To sharpen their focus on value-based care, organizations utilize electronic health records to streamline the entire care continuum. When implemented correctly, an electronic records system can lead to more accurate diagnoses, fewer medical errors, better collaboration between caregivers, and reduced overall costs linked to paperwork and duplicate testing.

Keeping records up-to-date and accurate is more effective with the help of portals and unique patient identifiers. Changes made by doctors, patients and caregivers update across an organization’s entire system instantly. Doctors, specialists, nurses, care team members and others can then access relevant data at any point in the patient’s care continuum.

3. Encourage feedback from your ecosystem

As it has evolved, the concept of population health has played an increasingly important role in value-based care. That’s because it can help hospitals and providers understand their patients better. After implementing new strategies to make use of data, incorporate methods for collecting and making use of feedback.

What people say about an organization’s efforts should largely determine their success. Leaders can’t know whether those efforts work or whether the data is most accurate without knowing how staff, patients and families are impacted. For optimal convenience, include feedback options in the dashboard of the patient portal and encourage users to take advantage of them often.

Now that population health is a guiding principle instead of an emerging idea, it’s time for organizations to get serious about it. Fortunately, there are plenty of tools available for contributing to and managing population health efficiently and effectively.

Marc Helberg is the managing VP at the Philadelphia office of Pariveda Solutions, a consulting firm driven to create innovative, growth-oriented and people-first solutions.

 

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