The healthcare industry holds great hope for population health management — which can be defined as improving outcomes and lowering healthcare costs for a specific group of patients — to help better embrace value-based care reimbursement models. But according to a recent Numerof & Associates survey report, while most healthcare executive respondents see future gains in revenue and decreases in risk by adopting population health management contracts, adoption progress has stalled.1
Frank Cutitta, HIMSS market analyst, said there are many reasons that explain why healthcare organizations have not found more success in implementing population health initiatives. One issue is getting past the hype curve to define what kind of programs organizations need and what can be successfully deployed. But the other issue is leveraging the right technologies for actual deployment.
“If you ask five different people to define population health management, you are going to get 10 different definitions,” he said. “Some people talk about population health as a way to better manage epidemic diseases like the Zika virus. On the other end of the spectrum, people talk about value-based care and the economics of healthcare across a larger population of people. But either way, if you don’t have the technology you need to implement initiatives, it doesn’t matter how well they are defined. It’s going to be hard to be successful.”
Thinking beyond analytics
While many in the industry have focused on ways to collect and integrate data to create and effectively design population health management programs, less attention has focused on how to best engage patients to get them to participate. That’s an area where technology can help, said Cutitta. For the most part, when hospitals and provider organizations consider information technology investments, they are seeking devices, software, and platforms that support the enterprise. Deciding on how to best provision technologies for the patient outside the four walls of the hospital requires a different mindset, he said.
Look at printing technology, for instance. Improving patient engagement is a healthcare provider and organizational responsibility, but It’s more than ensuring patients have easy-to-read print materials with clear instructional graphics when they’re home, according to Cutitta. “Healthcare organizations need print technology that improves endpoint security and eliminates unclaimed documents that hold protected health information,” he said.
“Still, population health management isn’t something that can be done solely during patient visits or in the examining room,” said Cutitta. “You also have to think about technologies that can function where patients live and work, and have features that help tell you where patients are and how technologies are being used — technologies that can successfully send data back to you. In fact, some of the most challenging yet most critical pop health data stems from social determinants that may have occurred well before the patient was born.”
Consider a cohort of complex cardiac patients. It may be easy to suggest that such patients use their smartphones or other devices to regularly collect diet, exercise, and other pertinent health information to help physicians and other clinical staff conduct remote patient monitoring. But it’s much easier said than done.
“Interoperability is key, and it’s often what’s lacking,” said Cutitta. “The data you need for population health initiatives is not gathered when things are sequestered and operating in isolation. It’s collected when patients are out in the real world living their lives. What’s key is to have a technology ecosystem that can work with myriad platforms and devices, aggregate what’s derived from those devices, and make the data easily available to clinicians.”
So much the better if the technology ecosystem can also leverage existing network infrastructure out in the community to help those with unreliable internet access to connect and maintain connections. Working with technology vendors who can assay the technology needs of at-risk communities and understand the challenges will help to ensure your program has the greatest possible reach.
Engaging patients, engaging success
Beyond interoperability, patient engagement is also an integral part of successful population health management endeavors, Cutitta said. For patients with more complex conditions, healthcare organizations may want to use peripheral devices such as blood pressure monitors, blood glucose monitors, or other biometric measures.
But just because you give patients these more comprehensive (not to mention expensive) tools for population health management, does not mean they are going to use them — or use them as prescribed. You are much more likely to have those patients comply when you can work with technology vendors who not only offer a device, but also can create a cohesive patient experience that carefully and clearly explains what they need to do and when they need to do it.
“Population health management isn’t just difficult to define, it is a challenge to implement,” said Cutitta. “These kinds of programs help make sure patients are taking more ownership of their care and, in the process, help reduce healthcare costs. There is a huge value in population health management — but only after defining the desired goals of the implementation. Healthcare enterprises need to carefully invest in the tools, technologies, and talent pool that can support it.”
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