The emerging role of digitally integrated care in population health

Population health strategies that offer a holistic approach can be effective in addressing inefficiencies.

Our health care system is at a turning point. A surplus of challenges—both related to processes, as well as looming financial implications—congest present-day operations and threaten stability.

  • An excess of 10,000 Americans turn 65 each day and are fueling the aging population explosion
  • The growing physician shortage continues, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reports the U.S. could see a shortage of 37,800 to 124,000 doctors by 2034
  • By 2027, health care expenditures are expected to reach nearly $6 trillion
  • Furthermore, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports hospital subsector’s workforce dropping by nearly 90,000 people since March 2020

These all-too-real facts emphasize the growing need to find improved solutions for our healthcare delivery system inefficiencies. Population health strategies that offer a holistic approach to understanding conditions and factors that affect the health of unique demographics over long periods of time, can be effective in addressing inefficiencies. They can assist in streamlining workflow, and ultimately helping providers improve outcomes for their patients.

According to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, population health is defined as “the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group. These groups are often geographic populations such as nations or communities, but can also be other groups such as employees, ethnic groups, disabled persons, prisoners, or any other defined group.”

Providers can use population health to identify and understand how genetics, geographic location, social environments, medical history, and other influences impact the status of health in a particular demographic. Once particular health metrics are discovered and identified in a studied group, communities can focus on those specific issues and work to develop improved health outcomes.

Rising as a needed competency for health care providers of all types, sizes, and specialties, the fact is implementing a population health strategy is fraught with structural obstacles and challenges: processing vast amounts of data, managing patients with chronic diseases, addressing recurring hospital visits; and executing preventive services require providers to adopt new approaches, and chief among them is implementing a digital-first strategy to health care.

Digitally-driven tools are rapidly emerging throughout the health care industry to meet significant demand, helping to streamline workflows, and maximize utilization of available resources. As a natural by-product and consequence, the effectiveness of a population health management program increases significantly with a digital alignment that supports community outreach, data management, and patient care.

Improved care is centered around the patient

Digital front doors enable a patient to connect to a multi-disciplinary team of providers, offering 24/7 treatment and triage, as well as providing an expansive range of patient services, including urgent care, primary, and specialty care. Digital-first access to care meets the patient where they are located, rather than requiring them to travel to meet with a provider in-person. And, that care can extend to the in-person setting, when needed, through a referral or by sending a medical professional to the home for a digitally integrated care experience. Digital integration allows patients to have a direct engagement at every major touchpoint of their health care journey by offering an avenue to conveniently communicate with their providers.

From a provider’s point of view, digitally integrated care allows for immediate access to medical data related to population health, a review of a patient’s medical history, identification of patterns, and recommended interventions. These features assist further in targeting unique symptoms and stratifying risk severity while keeping a laser focus on the patient’s well-being and quality of care.

Engaging patients across multiple stages in their health care journey, digitally integrated care removes structural complexities and simplifies workflows; the experience becomes streamlined and more intuitive, helping providers process population health data to ultimately improve patient care and offer effective treatment.

Accessible data brings incalculable efficiencies

A distinct attraction for adopting a digital-first approach is the ability to accurately and immediately complete tasks that formerly required extensive hours of manual data parsing—streamlining compliance and locating and resolving anomalous data outliers. However, a digital solution is able to consolidate resources, lessening the gridlock and regulatory burdens doctors often face.

When putting population health strategies into practice, digitally integrated care can help expedite responses to interventions, restructure workflows, and allows employees to spend less time on lengthy processes and manual tasks. Additionally, increased efficiencies address the growing and considerable financial expenditures and help lower costs. This ultimately leads to more hours dedicated to patient care, processing population data, efficient hospital administration, and reduced stress for physicians and all medical staff.

Improved Population Health

Digital front doors and digitally integrated care allow for increased data availability on broad community-related considerations affecting population health, along with enhanced ability to connect sources to patients, data-availability helps predict future outcomes. Digitally integrated care provides physicians with medical histories, recovery updates, as well as additional information connected to a patient’s care and treatment.

By identifying cases grouped as high-risk or with a specific condition(s), patients with the most urgent need can be triaged earlier, in a timely manner, with needed interventions. This can lead to fewer hospitalizations and a reduction in less severe needed interventions. The overall positive outcome is a continual decrease in expensive treatments, hospitalizations, and readmissions across large communities as well as specific demographic populations.

Digitally integrated care in the age of population health

Leveraging the power of enhanced technology, digital care can transform the well-being and health of all populations, including large demographic regions as well as specific and distinct communities.

When it comes to population health, digital front doors are positioned to evolve and perform an increased and vital role in supporting holistic, clinical, and health care delivery when implementing effective strategies.

Keith Algozzine is co-founder and CEO of UCM Digital Health. A board-certified Physician Assistant, he was formerly the Chief PA of Emergency Medicine for St. Mary’s Hospital in Troy, NY, where he witnessed firsthand the challenges of the modern healthcare system. Keith was also part of the national ER startup management team for Pegasus Emergency Medicine. He represents UCM Digital Health on the American Telemedicine Association Accreditation Advisory Board and serves as an advisor to the Clinical Practice Guidelines Committees dealing with telemedicine considerations for urgent and emergency care.