If you don’t quite understand the evolution of community-based to population-based health care, join the club. As a simple online search will reveal, the health care field has long grappled with defining these terms. But given their potential to improve patient outcomes, and also reduce provider costs, it pays to understand how the two trends relate, and how your organization could reap their benefits.
Geography, meet data
The concept of community-based health care – which has been around since before “community” became associated with virtual groups – is very much based in the concept of physical place. It looks at the health challenges faced, and assets available, within a village, city or another defined region. It is healthcare for and by the community, activating and integrating the expertise and resources of local leaders and organizations, both public and private. But while it looks to amplify the impact of the community as a healthcare resource, it likely still supports a traditional, episodic, fee-based approach to patient care.
Population-based health care, however, leverages advances in data, analytics and technology, along with non-traditional management philosophies, to assess and address health challenges of specific populations within geographic communities. It looks at groups within those borders, be they school children, employees of particular industries, disabled people, or patient groups based on level of risk or complexity of care. And it results in a team-centric, value-based approach, aiming to better treat both the individual and their peer group – while payment is determined by outcomes rather than amount of service provided.
Reduce Costs and Improve Outcomes?
One tantalizing promise of population health is that, by improving the well-being of specific, costly-to-care-for populations as a whole, eventually the need for, and cost of, health care will go down. It’s a nice theory – but how can it be put into practice?
There are no easy answers, but one recent industry report laid out five recommendations:
- Focus on high-risk groups. People with complex and/or chronic conditions – the “super-users” of healthcare – account for a disproportionate amount of overall health costs.
- Ditch the silos, integrate your team. Effective population health demands a cultural shift for organizations and a philosophical shift for the industry as a whole, from “me to we.” Multi-faceted organizations and partnerships will have to much more thoroughly align on everything from patient care and flow through the system to payment models.
- Develop new skills in your workforce. Don’t just expect physicians to pick up additional roles; let them concentrate on care, and consider developing “population health managers.”
- Make your data useable, accessible. Data exists in abundance; accessible, easily understandable data is less commonly available. Physicians (and administrators) need to be able to get a patient-centered view of care in real-time, including cost implications.
- Make it easy for patients to engage. And speaking of “patient-centered,” it’s also necessary to center your access to physicians around the patient, not just the physician’s office. Online, mobile and telemedicine options will become ever more important.
Does this all leave your head spinning? Don’t let it. Read, get to conferences, get to know some of the many consultants who’ve sprung up specifically to meet this need. Make population health work for your community, and for you.
NIH.gov: What is community health?
US News: How values-based care is changing population based health
AMOS: Community-based primary health care
Becker’s Hospital Review: Making the transition to population health
Health IT Analytics: 3 Population Health Management Strategies to Cut Costs