A growing number of healthcare organizations are failing to keep pace with their population health goals and falling even further behind the leaders in this arena, according to a new study.
The Numerof & Associates study summarizes responses from more than 400 C-suite healthcare executives to a 2017 online survey, combined with open-ended interviews with selected executives to lend color to the data. The target demographic included individuals working at the executive or vice president level in U.S. provider organizations of multiple types. The researchers received responses from executives in urban, rural, and suburban areas across the United States.
Findings indicate that while actual progress toward population health has failed to keep pace with respondents’ prior expectations—59% of 2015’s respondents predicted that by 2017, they would be at least “very prepared” to take on a greater portion of risk, whereas this year only one in five had actually met that threshold—executives remain confident that the healthcare industry is moving toward embracing population health as a standard practice. (83% of respondents rated population health either “very” or “critically” important to the industry.)
Larger institutions are moving faster to embrace at-risk contracts than smaller institutions. The study also found that while 91% of large health systems and 85% of mid-sized health systems reported having at least one at-risk population health contract, only 71% of smaller health systems reported the same. Moreover, most organizations are still just experimenting with risk-based contracts: more than one-third of respondents claimed they had at least one risk-based agreement with no downside risk at all—only the possibility of bonus payments if targets were exceeded.
Assess pop health progress
“The results…shed light on common challenges in moving to population health and what distinguishes those that have made significant headway from those that haven’t,” says Michael Abrams, managing partner of Numerof & Associates. “For most organizations, there’s a lot of work to do. Healthcare executives can use the findings to assess their own progress and gain insight on ways to accelerate their efforts.”
The study also found that organizations still expect the market to transition quickly to population health, meaning that many have a significant gap to close in terms of market expectations and their own organization’s capacity for change.
“Executives also expect revenue in capitated contracts to grow, and despite continuing concerns about the threat of financial loss as a roadblock to change, organizations still see population health as an opportunity to improve control of clinical costs, quality, and outcomes,” Abrams says.
Abrams advocates using nontraditional delivery options and considering how these tie into current efforts. “Although population health management has garnered significant attention and many organizations have at least some involvement in value-based models of care, there has been little effort given to tracking the actual progress made in this area,” he says.
“Healthcare executives that avoid taking on financial risk are holding onto the old model—and they’re likely to be left behind,” Abrams says. “Developing the capabilities needed to successfully move toward population health can’t happen overnight.”
According to Abrams, healthcare organizations must be willing and able to:
- Contract with entities outside of their organization’s direct control.
- Develop clear processes for their facilities to meet contractual obligations.
- Establish collaborative relationships with payers and employers.
- Develop compelling value stories for products and services offered by the organization.
- Identify, collect, and analyze accurate and meaningful data to support their value claims.