In a recent article in Healthcare IT News
, the author did an excellent job of summarizing several key components of a successful population health program, illustrated by a short case study about how finance leaders at Legacy Health in Portland, OR partnered with physicians to educate them on the financial impact of cost drivers. When discussing population health, I find it helpful to remember the Kindig and Stoddart definition of population health from 2003: “Health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.” This really helps summarize any framework and takes into account the end result of health improvement – how to monitor variability and the associated cost.
In order to have streamlined reporting, you need data. This sounds easy, but is often complex when extracting information from various health information systems (HIS) within a hospital or physician group. Many health systems have different electronic health record systems and having the tools and software to provide interconnectivity is essential. The data extracted must also be reliable, not only for clinicians, but for any other end user in the system that has a role in managing population health. Within hospitals, having this data will be essential when trying to reduce cost and variability in one key aspect of population health – supply chain cost. In the article, the author mentioned reducing the use of more expensive implants in the operating room, but this is the tip of the iceberg. The continued streamlining of pharmaceuticals and other medical devices will be paramount in reducing overall cost.
As a physician, I believe partnering with physicians is essential. Some may call it being aligned, but I think calling it partnering is more collegial. Reducing physician variability requires reliable data that physicians can trust. Physicians are scientists and are often competitive, and if you provide them with trusted data, they will make improvements. However, it doesn’t just happen unless you provide physician leaders to guide them, and this requires investing in order to get a return. In other words, hospitals, health systems, and physician groups must continue to invest in physician leadership education and training to provide financially-astute leaders in the era of the Affordable Care Act.
Byron C. Scott, MD, MBA, FACPE
Medical Director, National Clinical Medical Leader