Information is the most powerful resource we have when it comes to treating patients. And this quest for more immediately applicable health data has transformed the way we advance healthcare as a whole. Instead of solely focusing on hardware based advancement in things like medical grade computers and tablets, we’ve seen grander efforts made towards ideological and collaboratively-based evolutions such as interoperability and data sharing.   

Cut to today, and we see another grand shift in healthcare ideology: the movement from fee-for-service to value-based care. 

Because of concerns related to the rising cost and dropping quality of healthcare, we’ve seen a large number of providers make a change towards care grounded in quality and value as opposed to strictly charging patients based on treatments administered. In fact, according to a study commissioned by Change Healthcare, 35% of states have already adopted or are considering adopting Accountable Care Organizations to enhance the quality of care they can deliver and lower costs.

Needless to say, the shift hasn’t been completely realized, but that doesn’t mean healthcare providers should rest on their laurels until everyone’s made the switch. Those looking to provide the best care today can take steps towards value-based care by embracing Population Health Management.      

What is Population Health Management? 

Population health management (PHM) is a comprehensive approach towards improving the health of a group of individuals as opposed to focusing solely on single patients as they come in for treatment. The individuals included in these groups often share one key characteristic, whether it be a shared health system, geographic location, or affliction. 

Hospitals that focus on population health management take a big picture look at their patient-base and use data taken from various patients belonging to that specific group to inform their treatment decisions. With value-based care becoming more and more the norm, many are beginning to accept that population health management is one of the best ways to regulate the cost and quality of care they can deliver to their patient-base.

Therefore, PHM’s ultimate goal is three-pronged. It wants: 

  • To improve patient outcomes by leveraging data taken from a large sample population of similar patients
  • To employ that same data to manage chronic disease within that defined population of patients.
  • To control overall costs so that treatment is more affordable for patients and more feasibly administered by providers.

Sounds like a monumental task to set up such an infrastructure, right? However, the right healthcare IT employed the right way can do a lot of the legwork. Employed correctly, it can help develop a grander look at a population and help manage the specific diseases and conditions within it.

So then, what’s actually needed to accomplish this?     

Have a Vision

The problem with buzzword phrases such as “interoperability” and “population health” is that they can quickly become abstracted if goals aren’t clearly defined. 

Make sure your staff is united on the same front and concisely breakdown what your individual facility’s goals are for your PHM efforts. Some questions to consider that could facilitate this conversation are:

  • What are the short, middle, and long term milestones you hope to reach by employing a PHM infrastructure?
  • How will you be defining your patient population? By geography? Illness? Socio-economic status?
  • How much financial risk can you expect and is your facility prepared to accept that while you set up this framework?

Once you have a clearly defined vision for your PHM efforts, you can start building out your foundations.

Develop Your Network

Concisely caring for and compiling information on an entire population of patients requires a vast array of medical knowledge and expertise. Chances are slim all of that already exists solely within your organization. Many healthcare facilities understand this and make efforts to bring in physicians and other organizations into their network that allow them to fill the holes in their treatment capabilities.  

As an organization planning on embracing PHM and value-based care, you should examine your market and understand your patient population’s health status. Once you’ve acquired a thorough understanding of the illnesses and ailments that most commonly affect your patient population, compare that with your offered health support. Try and observe any gaps in your offered treatment capabilities and decide whether or not they can be addressed feasibly. 

For example, a healthcare facility based in a location that is commonly affected by obesity should take a look at their network and see if they have staff well versed in bariatric training. If they do not, then that’s a gap in treatment capabilities that needs to be addressed by bringing in more specialists or partnering with organizations more versed in that field.

Healthcare organizations that realize the need for partnerships and relationships with other specialists/facilities are going to see the greatest results come from their PHM efforts.  

Invest in Telehealth and Virtual Care

Depending on your targeted population, your healthcare facility could be looking at treating a wide array of patients, not all of them conveniently located near your front doors. Luckily, proper telehealth and virtual care capabilities can help shrink the borders that separate your caregivers from their patients. 

Telehealth allows patients and caregivers to communicate remotely through communications technology such as phones, tablets, and computers. Virtual care, on the other hand, is a little more involved as it allows physicians to closely monitor and treat chronic conditions such as hypertension or diabetes- conditions that result in regular rehospitalization if symptoms aren’t carefully controlled. 

Through devices like wearables and healthcare apps, patients can accurately record and share data on their symptoms with their physicians, allowing them to adjust treatment on the fly. Not only does this aid in treatment of the individual patient, this data further expands the pool of information available on the bigger patient population as a whole.  

If your patient population suffers from chronic conditions whose close tracking is necessary, it might be worth your organization’s time to train its employees to use and troubleshoot devices such as the computers, medical tablets, and wearables they’ll use to virtually check in on their patients. 

Build Out Your Available Data

Part of understanding a patient’s healthcare journey is understanding everything that led them to seek out care from your team. That means learning about their history, genetics, socio-economic status, and even prior visits to doctors not affiliated with your facility.

Unfortunately, health information exchange (HIE) is arguably one of the hardest hurdles to leap when setting up a PHM program. Aside from even just building out the infrastructure, many tools and records currently available to physicians haven’t embraced interoperability, meaning the information that we could share from them can’t be delivered in its entirety or even 100% accurately. Nevertheless, the push towards value-based care necessitates building out the foundations where we can. 

To that end, developing regional, local, or state-sponsored data exchange networks with other organizations can put you off to an amazing start. 

Advancements in HIE can vary from state to state, but efforts are definitely being made across the board to enhance how patient data is recorded, stored, and shared with other providers. You can start building out your network of available patient data by reaching out to your state’s HIE representative which can be located here. From there, you can learn what exchange service providers are available and what other efforts are being made within your state’s HIE program. 

Once you have a list of exchange service providers, determine which is the best fit for your facility’s goals by recalling your vision from earlier. Better yet, learn if your organization even has the internal requirements needed to participate in HIE with other providers. Speak to each provider and leave thoroughly understanding:

  • How sustainable HIE is within your facility.
  • What methods of data exchange are supported and available. 
  • The internal requirements of HIE. 
  • The liabilities and costs your facility will have to undertake.

Quality Care Population-Wide

As medical professionals, the goal has always been quality care regardless of the patient. By turning the lens on larger patient groups, providers can use information gathered from individuals to treat more chronic population-spanning ailments and conditions. For more information on how your organization can use medical computers and tablets to promote building that infrastructure, contact an expert at Cybernet today.