The #1 Misconception about Population Health
A critical competency in a value-based world
In recent years, population health management has emerged as an essential capability for healthcare systems to remain viable in a value-based world. This has paved the way for investments in data integration solutions and clinical informatics, new care management models and innovative partnerships that span the entire healthcare continuum. All in the service of delivering better healthcare for the population at a lower cost.
Population health is personal
By definition, population health management is designed around the collective. But at the core, to truly drive the high quality care at lower cost value equation, these efforts must work for the individual. They must make sense amidst their real lives and struggles. They must align with their personal goals. And they must be integrated into the day-to-day realities of the human beings who comprise the population.
Indeed, the greatest misconception about population health is that it’s about the population. Ultimately, it’s about the individual. This means that understanding the personal side of population health is what success will hinge on.
So, it’s about the patient? Getting warmer…
First, we must recognize the shortsightedness of a patient-centered approach. To be sure, this is a provocative statement coming from Planetree, an organization that has been a leader in defining and advocating for patient-centered care for nearly forty years. But to center population health efforts on the patients we care for means we are overlooking those who are NOT patients – either because the need has not arisen, because they have opted out of engaging with the healthcare system, or because circumstances have made them difficult to access and reach.
Even for those who are highly engaged patients, the time spent interacting with the healthcare system is but a mere fraction of what influences their overall health and well-being. Which is to say, if we design population health efforts solely around patients and their interactions with the healthcare system in its traditional construct, we fail to address the enormously significant social determinants of health. These social determinants, which include environmental, economic, and cultural factors, work together to shape an individual’s access to care, as well as their likelihood to be engaged in managing their health and adopting healthy behaviors.
This more reactive focus on patient-centered care (designing systems around their needs once they are in the system) squanders the opportunities to reach people before their care needs may become more acute (and costly).
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