4 Population Health Predictions for 2020

November 23, 2019

Here are key areas that will trend in 2020, particularly in regard to population health programs.

As the industry is revving up plans for 2020, we can expect the overall healthcare industry to see quite a few changes in the coming months. The industry will see shake ups, both large and small, in various areas, likely including Medicare, the ACA, taxes, precision medicine, and the use of wearable medical devices.

Here are four key areas that will trend in 2020, particularly in regard to population health programs. Looking into our crystal ball, we predict a combination of human-focused and technological adjustments.

1. More dollars will be spent on personalization.

Twenty years ago, population health, by definition, had to be broad in its focus. With the technology of today, however, we are in an extraordinary time in which we can cast a broad net while simultaneously provide a highly personalized experience. Every other area of the consumer experience is personalized-social media feeds, online shopping, and home entertainment content. Company leaders in 2020 will begin to realize that their employees expect to be individually catered to, not just be spoon fed a generic approach that leaves them feeling like their specific needs are not understood or being considered.

This shift will include a growing consideration of a population’s social determinants of health such as such as food, housing, access to transportation, education, and employment. Additionally, we believe companies will start paying more attention to mental health. Depression is estimated to cause around 200 million lost workdays in the United States, and stress costs employers as much as $300 billion a year.

We believe companies in 2020 will roll out a growing number of initiatives to address these social and behavioral determinants impacting health. Program engagement and efficacy will substantially increase when the approach is personalized.

2. Workplace culture will finally be recognized for its importance in population health.

Asking employees to engage in a wellness program can create understandable anxiety. Questions about the company’s motivations, individual privacy, and how supportive middle and upper management really is can all lead to a reluctance to participate. The culture of the workplace is the context in which the employees are going to evaluate whether it is “safe” to participate. Additionally, you can’t expect a healthy, robust wellness program to flourish in an unhealthy work environment.

Here’s some straight talk: you cannot simply launch a wellness program and expect it to work.

In 2020, CEOs will need to step up and participate in healthy activities, snacking, and wellness checks right alongside their employees. Executives from the top must be willing to show a consistent, personal commitment to promoting good health and safety from every cubicle and corner office. We will see more companies begin to create a culture of work/life balance that encourages people to take their vacation days and get the amount of proper sleep. Developing a corporate culture that makes it acceptable to talk about mental health issues, too, will impact the bottom line.

There is plenty of evidence that shows implementing workplace changes in health policies and efforts works, but only if it’s comprehensive at all levels of the organization. By participating as a leader, executives help to build trust, which will lead to increased willingness to participate in the wellness programs that are being offered. One step at a time, employees will start to believe that their health really does matter to the company, and that will build a culture of trust and engagement.

Related: Population Health Initiative Reduces Pediatric Hospitalization Rate

3. Data will drive program design

Using data to drive decision making about program design is an important opportunity that cannot be missed in 2020. Notice I didn’t say “collecting” data. It’s time to do a better job analyzing it, understanding the story the data is trying to tell us.

The explosive growth of healthcare data has created a new set of opportunities. In 2012 alone worldwide digital healthcare data was estimated to be around 500 petabytes and is expected to reach 25,000 petabytes by 2020, equal to 500 billion four-drawer filing cabinets-a 50-fold increase from 2012. Connected healthcare solutions consolidate information from numerous devices and systems that may include biological, medical, genetic, lifestyle, and sentiment/mood data. 

Company leaders have acknowledged the importance of gathering data, surveying their employees, briefly review the results, and then a few months later meet to discuss their employee engagement initiatives for the upcoming year without leveraging their employees’ feedback. This is missing the population health “intelligence” piece of data intelligence. The data must be used to make informed, thoughtful decisions, not just glanced at as rows of numbers. When you’re planning your population health initiatives for next year, why not look at the areas your employees care about and what to focus on? Applying data analysis to the creation of a health plan will definitely reduce health care spending in 2020.

4. We’ll see more industry collaboration re: cybersecurity threat prevention.

Privacy is going to continue to be a regular topic of discussion. There’s no question that bad actors are getting more aggressive and that it’s a “when” not “if” scenario that private health information will be compromised. Chronic underinvestment in cybersecurity has left too many companies (and patients) exposed. No one wants to wind up on HHS’ wall of shame so we are faced today with a very closed system. But there is strength in numbers and I predict that we’ll see more of us come together in 2020 to innovate security options in a collaborative way.  As the industry implements the latest pieces of technology to improve patient care, the healthcare cybersecurity threats will also continue to evolve. As companies adapt to the changes brought about by GDPR, the California Consumer Privacy Act, etc. we will continue to build safeguards into our products that help companies stay compliant.

What will stay the same?

Beyond these four key shifts we predict 2020 will bring, some things are bound to stay the same. Driving human behavior towards healthy choices will always be at the core of our industry and will always be our biggest challenge. At the end of the day, we’re trying to get people to take a long-term mindset with respect to their health. We live in an instant-gratification world. It takes work to get off the couch and do a plank during commercials. It’s hard to order the heart-healthy salad rather than the double bacon cheeseburger.

Healthy choices are more understood today, but it will continue to be a challenge to make them. Knowing this illustrates the importance of creating a health culture at work. Whether it’s via personalized options or executive-driven programs understanding and creating a healthy workplace, both physically and mentally, is critical to our future.

 

Chris McReynolds is chief executive officer of Wellsource, a premier provider of evidenced-based, NCQA-certified HRA and self-management tools