Unless you are heavily involved in healthcare management, you may not have heard of population health or population health management tools, let alone know the significance it plays in your community. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one that hasn’t. In fact, there are many healthcare professionals that don’t understand the scope of it either. This is partially due to the fact that the healthcare industry as a whole is growing and taking on many technological advances that go far beyond state of the art MRI machines or complex surgeries. Population health is somewhat self-explanatory in the respect that it truly is the study and work towards bettering a selection population, such as a community or large area.
You don’t just stumble upon or simply achieve a perfection in population health, and you can’t will it into existence because there are many moving parts to implementing health improvements. As such, it is necessary to find the tools that go into making this possible as well as how they play a part in individual care.
Ability to Identify Groups Within a Population
To know where to start, you must know who you are dealing with. A healthcare organization serves a distinct geographic area, with a few outliers, that have health issues. Many communities have similar health problems no matter where they are, such as a larger group of aging individuals with somewhat similar ailments or a cold/flu season for many people come fall and winter. However, there are unique situations in some communities, such as the outbreak of measles where vaccines are not administered.
No matter the commonality or rarity, each population has its own patterns that healthcare professionals are trying to work in. These patterns help identify where more efforts need to placed for aiding in things including education, preventative care, disease control and health promotion. When a population knows better how to take care of themselves, it is much easier to control outbreaks, prevent avoidable illnesses, and lower costs involved with healthcare for both facilities and individuals.
Using Analytics to Identify Problems
Analytics and data analysis has been used in many other industries for decades. Unfortunately, healthcare has been a little late to the game, but has made up for this in sheer effort to implement the concept to its fullest potential. Every time someone visits a doctor’s office or goes into the emergency room, data is collected about the person. Vitals are recorded onto the patient’s EMR (electronic health record), which isn’t just used for treating and tracking him or her, but also is recorded for government records and is stored within a database. The data helps to reveal a pattern within the community.
The information isn’t solely plotted as data points, but goes much deeper to pointing out deficiencies in the system, waste that is occurring, and providing real-time data results that helps to treat patients and make strong data-driven decisions throughout the system. It may be hard to believe that such a large group of people contribute to making an individual’s experience more satisfying and precise, yet this is exactly what detailed documentation does for everybody.
Patient Access to Care and Information
As mentioned before, an EMR is the new way a patient’s record is kept. This allows for more accuracy, especially across different departments of facilities, quicker response time, and less time spent waiting or on wasted areas. Access isn’t only for doctors and other healthcare staff, but also is for the patient to see and check on as needed. So, rather than having to go back to a doctor’s office after tests results have come in, a patient is able to log onto their record and pull up the results. There may be reasons to follow up with a doctor after that, but one less visit to the clinic frees up many people’s time, effort and money.
Most patients want to play some role in the health, and if it is information they need, this is a way for that to be easily handled. It also allows for patients and healthcare professionals to communicate without having to set up a visit. Many patient access platforms allow for a patient to post up a question or concern that can be answered when a physician sits down at his or her computer. This frees up time and efforts for both parties and usually happens in a much timelier manner than a sit down visit in the office would entail.
Personal Care and Follow-up Treatments
Unfortunately, there are patients and situations that have tolerated a certain amount of failure it personal healthcare. Some patients may not understand all the requirements that may be asked of them after a healthcare scare, such as new medications, physical requirements or follow-up visits. By no ill intent on the part of the patient, steps may have been missed or directions misunderstood, thus he or she is on a path that won’t lead back to better health. The need to have an advocate for a patient to help take them through some of the complexities that are involved in healthcare not only enables a patient to more clearly recognize expectations, but also brings care down to a personal level, rather than being treated like a number or rushed out the door.
This type of care also aids in safeguarding against important follow-up visits that might otherwise be put off, missed or never scheduled. An advocate can help explain the reasoning behind each visit, help to avoid scheduling problems and assist wherever other needs may arise.
Although much of this sounds like common sense and things that should have been in practice all along, the healthcare industry is still finding its footing with different technological aspects, new requirements from the government and more expectations from patients. As such, population health management tools are becoming more defined, being utilized like never before, and are growing in popularity as more healthcare organization find the short- and long-term benefits of employing them in everyday care of their patients.