Changes Ahead: The state of population health management

If you’ve been to the doctor recently, you may have noticed that the nurse or medical assistant who took your vital signs possibly entered those stats directly into a computer or tablet. And if you’ve visited a provider who is traditionally a late adopter of new healthcare technology, then you may have experienced a staff still adjusting to the change of keeping an EHR, electronic health record, a key component of population health management.

The healthcare industry has been one of the slowest industries to jump aboard the big data train. But, amidst all of the changes, population health is here to stay. And, in the changing medical reimbursement landscape, from volume-based to value-based, it’s a needed and beneficial change.

With an emerging emphasis on payer-provider relationships, population health plays a very important role in reducing cost and improving patient outcomes. Payers and providers, traditionally operating separately, are coming together for the benefit of the patient, and it benefits each of them as well. Payers are paying less, and providers are benefiting from seeing an overall picture of health, which allows them to provide better care.

While some healthcare providers are just now jumping on board, population health continues to evolve. Until now, many clinics and practices may have used several different EHR systems (eClinicalWeb, MyChart, etc.).  In 2017 and beyond, we’ll see the converging of many different systems under one roof.  As the systems “talk to each other”, providers will be able to glean a much broader sense of a patient’s overall wellbeing.

Many kinds of information can be made available through population health—Clinical, financial, sociodemographic, and geographic data. For example, socioeconomic data, which goes beyond ethnicity and home language, may provide insights such as housing stability or access to reliable transportation. This allows providers to look for care gaps—things that may prevent a patient from receiving the best care possible.

Beyond pulling much data together, population health will continue to develop and transform the healthcare industry in the coming years. Other developments and trends in the PHM space include mobile visits—talking to a physician over the phone; apps—the ability to email a physician or refill a prescription from a mobile app; and mental health—integrating behavioral health into the physical health picture.

Population health management, though not currently a well-oiled machine in the healthcare industry, has the potential to immensely improve health outcomes and lower costs in the coming years. As population health continues to march forward, payers and providers should both benefit from these technological advances, which allow for a complete picture of a patient’s health.  Change is inevitable, but keeping up with the trends and benefits makes it an easier and more meaningful transition.

Catholic Benefits Trust