As small practices ramp up their population health management programs, here’s how they can get the most out of those efforts.
There are five best practices that physicians should follow as they redesign their practice to effectively embark on population health projects, according to a report from IDC Health Insights, a division of Framingham, Mass.-based IDC Research Inc.
These five best practices, which include everything from recruiting the right people to introducing new processes and managing the data, are outlined in a six-page document, “Practices for Operationalizing Population Health Management,” which provides guidance for large and small practices alike as they address these challenges.
The report’s author, Cynthia Burghard, research director at IDC Health Insights, recently interviewed approximately 20 leading executives managing population health initiatives at large physician group practices to find out what strategies they are using to manage specific patient populations.
“What I found during these discussions is that the challenge many organizations face as they adopt population health at their practice was they thought they could buy a piece of technology and hire a care manager and do nothing else,” Burghard said.
Burghard told Medical Economics that small practices can learn a lot from the lessons that larger practices have gained as they attempt to fine tune their population health programs with the right processes, technology and skilled staff to address the complexities of managing large groups of patients.
Next: The five best practices to follow
Based on her interviews, Burghard put together five best practices she thinks every physician practice can benefit from:
1. Hire the appropriate staff: Depending on the sophistication of the entity, that may include an analyst to review and access data, or a nutritionist if your practice is made up of a higher population of diabetics or patients with hypertension.
2. Introduce new processes into your practice’s workflow: Population health management requires the development, implementation and management of new processes in your practice. Patient hand-offs is one example. Typically, it's the physician who takes responsibility for whatever education or disease or procedure is going to occur. When a care manager is introduced into your practice, you’ll need to be clear about who is responsible for what activity. For instance, when does a care manager need to go to a physician to get advice about how to manage chronic illnesses?
Another example is introducing new measures for diabetic patients that come to see the doctor for strep throat. The added steps of making sure that A1C tests are up-to-date and providing patients with information on new guidelines about how to manage diabetes are examples of how practices will have to introduce new processes to patient care that is designed to improve outcomes.
3. Managing technology and data: Hiring an individual who is responsible for managing the data is an important part of operationalizing population health. A skilled data analyst can capture relevant data from an electronic health record, interpret past and present patient data, track quality metrics and present data in a way that provides patient insights. Doctors can act on this information to order more tests, for example, or change medications where necessary to improve patient outcomes.
4. Provide ongoing training and support. Population health will have the effect of introducing new technology into your practice. Having someone who is either a super user of that software or an IT professional that can learn from the vendor and then train and support others on an ongoing basis is key to utilizing the technology to get the best results.
5. Create a sustainable program: Understanding the strengths of the practice as well as the population that is being managed is critical. Start your population health initiatives with the two or three areas in your practice that you know you can manage well, whether it's a group of diabetics, patients with cancer or hypertensive patients. Figure out those processes you’ll need to manage these patients, develop a program that can help you realize savings and receive quality bonuses, and eventually you’ll be able to fund the expansion of your population health program.