Healthcare News & Insights

Population health: 5 keys to successful initiatives

Hospitals have been challenged to focus more of their resources on improving population health as a whole. Payors and the feds are calling on facilities to take more responsibility for patient outcomes, and poor results affect hospitals’ reimbursement. However, this can be a daunting process. 

186363268Most experts agree that the first step is identifying which areas of a hospital’s patient mix need the most attention so the facility can create specific initiatives designed to improve their health.

But it may be difficult to determine how to move forward.

Elements of excellent programs

Dr. Anil Jain, a vice president of IBM Watson health and doctor at the Cleveland Clinic, wrote an article for Hospitals & Health Networks discussing five areas hospitals must focus on to achieve success with managing population health:

  1. Getting the right data. Relevant data is key to improving population health. Hospitals should use their own internal information about patients, as well as data from payors and other community partners, to guide their decision making for population health. While specific health data is important, hospitals also need general information about patients’ habits, tendencies and environment so they can take these factors into account when trying to help them make positive changes for their health.
  2. Interoperability. One of the most significant changes coming to the federal meaningful use program for electronic health records (EHR) systems is a greater focus on interoperability between EHRs and various forms of health technology. Hospitals need to get on this bandwagon as soon as possible, since seamless data sharing between facilities, providers, payors and community partners is an essential part of managing population health.
  3. Infrastructure investment. To achieve interoperability, hospitals must be willing to make the required investments in meaningful IT improvements that can best help them achieve their population health goals. Facilities must also make a commitment to investing the required time, training and financial resources into all other aspects of their population health initiatives.
  4. Patient and provider engagement. Dr. Jain said it best: “All the data in the world will not improve outcomes for patients if they and their providers are not effectively engaged with each other, and with clinical goals and programs.” It’s crucial to get feedback from both patients and providers through every step of a population health initiative. Not only does this boost engagement, it also ensures that changes made to improve population health are reasonable, sustainable and aligned with each patient’s individual health goals.
  5. Scaling knowledge & expertise. Hospitals will be interpreting and analyzing large amounts of data to measure the success of any population health initiatives. To make this process less overwhelming, it’s in facilities’ best interests to scale their operations so they can manage this data effectively. Dr. Jain suggested that hospitals take advantage of technology that’s available for automating data analysis. One option: Cognitive computing. This technology interprets data more precisely than a human could, considering how multiple factors could affect patient outcomes and offering a range of solutions.

The best population health initiatives will incorporate these five elements to get a more detailed idea of which kinds of patients will be targeted by the program, along with how to best lay the framework to ensure its success.

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