The need for population health services has never been more critical. The epidemic of chronic disease, coupled with aging populations and shrinking resources, is straining current care systems beyond all measure. Take into account the physician burnout crisis—almost half of clinic time is spent performing burdensome computer-based tasks— and it’s clear that the status quo isn’t working for patients or healthcare professionals. We need to shake up the health system and take a closer look at how to keep our populations healthier.
Why population health is the future
Currently, multiple chronic conditions affect one in three adults around the world. Despite this, only 3 percent of every healthcare dollar is spent on preventive health. This is a drop in the ocean considering the long-term cost savings and benefits that a robust population health ecosystem can deliver.
Population health—the collection and analysis of public healthcare data across care settings to identify the most prevalent needs of a community—is part of the solution. It can help make the delivery of care more efficient by treating high risk populations early on—before they end up in acute care—therefore putting less strain on health infrastructure and those involved in front-line care. It is revolutionizing the ways in which we provide care, and equally bringing improvements and benefits to all parties.
Population health is closely entwined with risk stratification; the process of identifying and stratifying high risk population groups who are likely to account for a larger fraction of health care costs. By identifying these high-risk / high-cost individuals early on and offering them preventative care tailored to their needs, it is possible to improve their health outcomes and experiences of care.
Early intervention benefits patients by helping them avoid preventable health conditions which may lead to requiring acute care. Population health initiatives are also key to ensuring that individual health needs are met and that they don’t fall through the cracks. This includes those who are well, and those who are susceptible to certain diseases or living with them at home.
Population health also benefits providers by ensuring more efficient spending of funds so that investments are made where they are truly needed. Population health can lead to cost savings through lower hospital admissions, shorter stays, and reduced readmissions.
Delivering care today for change tomorrow
Changing how medicine is delivered is not going to be done by one entity or individual alone. We all need to take an active part to make population health work, from vendors to insurers and payers to frontline staff. Here are three important steps that the healthcare industry should put into practice to bring about this vital change:
1. Mindset matters: To build and activate a successful population health ecosystem and strategy, there needs to be a shift in mindset towards value-based care and preventative treatment. Healthcare leaders have an opportunity to lead the charge here; they should communicate their vision to the teams they work with, and help practitioners and others along on the journey. Leaders who involve practitioners in the change, consulting them on key decisions, will experience a smoother transition.
Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, for example, introduced the Physician Leadership Academy (PLA), a 3-year program that gives physicians a foundation in the business and leaderships aspects of healthcare. After participating in the leadership program, ‘many physicians demonstrated a shift in the mindset from focusing on small, discipline-specific projects to macro-level, hospital-wide initiatives’, showing the return on investment and how the novel example could be applied to educate physicians on the benefits of population health.