Get your population health strategy off the ground: 4 steps

December 11, 2015

Population health management, one of the most pressing priorities for executives today, requires careful planning and strategy. Here are some tips.

Today, hospital executives are confronted with myriad competing and expensive priorities-all critical to the longevity of their businesses. While losing money to government mandates, they are also struggling with improving care quality as they move closer to new value-based care models.

Population health management, one of the most pressing priorities for executives today, given its impact on these things -and overall costs and revenue -requires careful planning and strategy. And, it is a considerable investment, needing technology implementations; employee training; new patient, payer and provider engagement paradigms; and changes in actual care delivery.

Health systems on the front lines of care reform  will approach population health management carefully, though expeditiously, paying close attention to stakeholder buy-in, collaborations with internal and external partners, and new interoperable and intuitive tools that extend outside of the four walls of the health system to give them better patient-centric, closed loop care management.

Here are four ways to get your population health strategy off the ground:

1. Get buy-in and champions up front

A foundational element of any successful population health management strategy is getting everyone on the same page. While it is assumed that this box is something that should be-and is-checked thoroughly from the start, centralized collaboration is often neglected during the design phase , and even through the program roll-out and activation, leading to disjointed objectives, poor transparency and fewer internal program champions.

Without participation across different groups, hospitals lose the opportunity to hear the stories and needs of important program participants, and may not incorporate their perceptions and requirements into the overall program, exposing the hospital to possible problems down the line.

By including disparate stakeholders from the beginning, hospitals gain natural program ambassadors across the heterogeneous environment that are more inclined to adhere to and champion program strategies,  and to socialize their program successes early on, and over time, keeping program quality high and momentum and morale strong.

Next: Design a command center for collaboration



2. Design a command center for collaboration

Given the interoperability challenges faced by health systems today, the concept of a command center, for the purpose of centralizing population health management, is appealing. This command center brings together groups of people who monitor and listen to patients and their health advocatesincluding clinicians, care coordinators and providers; help them respond to inquiries; synthesize opinions to determine the best course of action; track patient episodes, patterns and practices; and actively work patients through the care ecosystem- all from one platform.

When these programs are built from disjointed risk stratification applications, analytics platforms and care coordination software, health systems are not able to achieve more coordinated and efficient work flows across business process management functions and  care delivery.

By re-architecting their population health programs around a centralized operating system, they will gain immediate value when it comes to helping them better manage their patients, particularly those who are high-risk or have chronic conditions.

More importantly, though, they set their organization up for success in the long-term, gaining a more sophisticated, automated, scalable solution.

3. Foster strategic collaboration between disparate health system stakeholders

It is incredibly important for health system stakeholders to collaborate in new and different ways when forming an overall population health strategy. From CMOs, who should be informing and supporting patient access strategies, to CFOs who should be viewed more as chief innovation officers, it is clear the idea of collaboration is changing within the health system. And, savvy systems know that collaboration will be key to long-term success.

Take CIOs for example, they should be looking to extend the their team beyond the four walls of the hospital, extending technologies to a health system’s broader community of independent doctors, not just managing the hospital infrastructure.

CIOs in particular, should be held accountable for developing and supporting new collaboration strategies that will drive non-traditional revenue streams, particularly as inpatient volumes decline and future growth becomes more dependent upon outpatient volumes.

Only via a command center approach may health systems support this sort of heterogeneous collaboration, providing stakeholders with a central nervous system for accessing pertinent patient and health system information, in real-time-then deducing and articulating work flows from there.

The healthcare industry must acknowledge that health system strategies fail when they force clinicians to perform unnatural work flows based on unwieldy or non-intuitive technologies. Healthcare, by nature of its definition, is something that must be managed in real-time. The reason iOS and the Android operating systems are wildly successful is because they are instinctive and provide consumers with a platform for managing every aspect of their life, on the go-or while at home.

Next: Go beyond analytics to work flows



4. Go beyond analytics to work flows

So how exactly does a health system evolve beyond analytics to real-time work flows? The first step is to recognize that electronic health records (EHRs) are not designed to perform real-time analytics functions or create point-of-care work flows.

Single-vendor strategies have long inhibited industry progress, pushing the health system C-suite into believing that big data vendors and EHR companies can be everything to everyone. While some people predict that future editions of the Certified EHR Technology criteria will include greater emphasis on analytics capabilities to ensure that health systems can better manage population health activities via their EHR system, this is unrealistic.

So far, EHRs have proven that they are good at one thing, collecting data, and only within the four walls of the health system. EHRs were not designed to operate outside of these brick and mortar institutions, let alone to collect and analyze data, or ultimately serve as an organization’s population health management backbone. 

Even if EHR vendors do integrate analytics into their systems, the capabilities will be rudimentary. They will lack the necessary capabilities to support clinicians at the point of care, and will lack the sophistication to guide hospitals’ population health strategies. And even if basic functionality is incorporated into EHRs, analytics can be puzzling and overwhelming to care coordinators and clinicians. 

To properly care for all the health needs of their population, health systems will need to leverage a network of community resources and it will be essential to coordinate the activities of the various people working with the patient. These people need tools that go beyond data collection, and even analysis, to provide real-time frameworks for guiding priorities, care delivery methods and approaches to patient engagement.

Ron Razmi is the founder and CEO of Acupera.