Managing Health in a Population presents as a top priority for public health organizations and some large and government-owned healthcare organization. This is because health is an important and vital part of any society. A healthy population means a better functioning society and a better economy. There are several definitions of health that explain why managing health in a population is vital.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Health can be considered a capital good; health capital is part of human capital as defined by the Grossman model. The World Health Organization (WHO)
Population health as defined by the American journal of public health is “the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.
Population health is focused on the health of ordinary people. The backbone of every society is it’s population and maintaining their health is therefore important because the productivity or output of that society depends on the productivity of its population. And in like manner an unhealthy population equals an ailing society which in turn equals an failing economy.
FACTORS THAT DETERMINE THE HEALTH OF A POPULATION
There are certain determinants that influence individual and group differences in health conditions of a population. These are socio-economic conditions such as work and living conditions rather than individual risk factors (such as behavioral risks or genetics). Plainly put, those living in poverty are more likely to experience negative health outcomes than those who are more financially well off. Whitehall studies – a series of studies conducted on civil servants in London, showed that despite the fact that all civil servants in England have the same access to health care, there was a strong correlation between social status and health.
However, these factors are not always applicable because it has been found that even amongst the wealthiest quarter of countries on earth, there is no relation a country’s wealth and general population health which suggests that past a certain level, absolute levels of wealth have little impact on population health. This suggests that for individuals predisposed to diseases such as heart diseases, ulcers, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and other like diseases, the chances of their manifestation is the same for both the rich and poor alike.
THE PROCESS OF MANAGING THE HEALTH OF A POPULATION
Population health management seeks to improve the health outcomes of a group by monitoring and identifying individual patients within that group. Since it’s been established that regardless of socioeconomic status, certain diseases will still prevail in a given population, managing the health of the population will involve a number of different approaches that when put together with help to achieve optimal health at the lowest possible cost.
These approaches can be broadly categorized into five steps.
Step one: This involves monitoring and identifying individual patients within a group. This grouping is usually done based on medical conditions, age, location, ethnicity, work patterns etc. For instance, the number of workers in a construction company with cases of rheumatoid arthritis could be identified and then monitored.
Step two: Aggregation of patient data across multiple health information technology resources. Organizations should be able to integrate a ton of internal and external data sources to provide better transparency into the population health journey. This helps organizations better manage their networks, risks, opportunities, and strategies to efficiently improve health. In the construction workers’ example given in step one, the availability of sufficient data on the predisposition of construction staff would give a new organization sufficient information on the disease pattern and methods of prevention.
Step three: Analysis of that data into a single, actionable patient record. Once organizations have the right data, they will need an analytic structure that has the ability to produce a baseline understanding of the target population. Further analysis can help synthesize and prioritize opportunities. For example, to lower the number of cases of rheumatoid arthritis in construction workers, the health systems need to understand the prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis in the population, then identify improvement opportunities based on variation in care and understand the total cost of care across the continuum versus the cost in a vertical setting (just one hospital or clinic).
Step four: Payment transformation. Before the introduction of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), hospitals were reimbursed based on the volume of procedures. Under PPACA, reimbursement models are shifting from volume to value. Hospitals now have to meet specific quality benchmarks, focus on prevention and carefully manage patients with chronic diseases. Providers get paid more for keeping their patients healthy and out of the hospital.
Step five: Transformation of patient care. By using data collected over time across the continuum, studying similar disease patterns and comparing outcomes, it is easy to determine the best approach of care at the least cost that would lead to improved patient outcomes and experience.
ADVANTAGES OF MANAGING HEALTH IN A POPULATION
Population health management encourages collaboration between leaders in healthcare, politics, education, and business. A successful population health management program will give real-time insights to both clinicians and healthcare administrators and allow them not only identify but also address gaps within a patient population. When people are healthier through preventive care, they have the potential to live a longer and healthier life
In summary, to ensure proper management of health within a population, organizations must commit to fully understanding the strategies and steps that align with outcomes improvement and apply same to areas with the greatest opportunity for improvement.