Ben Franklin once wrote, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." In today's world, that might be rephrased as "a gigabyte of data is worth a population's general health and wellbeing." Not quite as catchy, but true.
The field of Population Health Management (PHM) is a growing discipline using collected information to provide better healthcare and control financial risk for distinct populations. These groups can take many forms, and may be defined by geographic location, cultural background, gender, age or income.
Most current PHM work is in the study of patients with the same chronic diseases. Stories abound in the news of the growth in childhood obesity and how to combat it or how an extended family in one region of South America may hold the key to unlocking the mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease. Data collection is at the heart of these studies and managing that data can improve care and help control costs.
Hospitals across the country use electronic health records (EHRs) for their patients and with every visit all previous personal information can accessed from anywhere. This gives healthcare providers a comprehensive view of a person’s illness and healthcare history. EMRs are also in use in many private doctors' offices, and the federal government has mandated that physicians must demonstrate "meaningful use" of these systems by a set deadline or face deductions in their Medicare reimbursements.
A problem right now is that there are multiple EHR providers in large healthcare institutions and small healthcare practices and they don’t interface. Collecting all the relevant data about a specific population is hampered by the inability to collate information from multiple sources. To manage a chronic condition in a population and reduce costs of care, PHM professionals must be able to see the complete picture, spot the trends and measure the information. Interoperability is mandatory.
Health systems are seeing the need for coordinated care in their cities or regions and are reaching out to each other, aligning forces to make changes that benefit all the participants. Hospitals, clinics and education facilities are joining forces to learn how to best serve their populations without duplicating work and either over-burdening or under-providing services in their area.
The cooperation is improving; however, population health management technology is still too immature to handle the information coming in from multiple sources.
There are many opportunities for improvement in PHM and those improvements are needed now. Eliminating gaps in information sharing and improving tools for data collection mean better health and lower costs for everyone. Having the right information allows doctors and nurses and others in healthcare to guide patients to healthier life choices, provide more economical care and even help entire populations prevent illness and disease.