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How do you Define Population Health?

By Clive Riddle, March 7, 2014

This week, the inaugural issue of Population Health News was published. In their Thought Leaders Corner, a number of members of their national advisory board answered the question – how do you define population health? Here’s what the experts had to say:

Fred Goldstein, M.S., Founder and President of Accountable Health, LLC; and Executive Director of Population Health Alliance says “A population health management program is one that strives to address health needs at all points along the continuum of health and well-being through the participation of, engagement with and targeted interventions for the population. The goal of a population health management program is to maintain or improve the physical and psychosocial well-being of individuals through cost-effective and tailored health solutions.” (Fred cites this description is from Population Health Alliance, formerly the Care Continuum Alliance)

Thomas Graf, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, Population Health and Longitudinal Care Service Lines at Geisinger Health System offers this definition:  “Population health is the ability to define and understand the health status of every individual patient and proactively deploy medical resources to support those patients, whether it is to push resource to them where they are, or effectively connect them to the optimal resource in a patient specific manner, accelerated by technology.”

Paul Grundy, M.D., MPH, FACOEM, FACPM, the Global Director of Healthcare Transformation for IBM and President of the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative (PCPCC) elaborates that  “population Health is ‘the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.’ For me, the ability to deliver population health requires a place in the delivery system that acts as the system integrator where the data flow about the population and is held accountable. We ask the house of primary care to give us a set of principles for this system integrator that is known as the patient-centered medical home (PCMH).  The medical home is defined as a ‘healthcare setting that facilitates partnerships between individual patients and their personal providers and when appropriate, a patient’s family. It lies at the center of the effort to address population health through the provision of integrated and coordinated, team-based care. It is a delivery organization that fosters clinician-led primary care with comprehensive, accessible, holistic and evidence-based coordination and management. PCMH builds the infrastructure through which data flow and is held accountable as the system integrator for POPULATION HEALTH.”

David Nash M.D., MBA, Founding Dean of the Jefferson School of Population Health at Thomas Jefferson University observes that "population health recognizes that the social determinants of healthcare, like poverty and education, are the key drivers of a society's well-being. Medical care is responsible for 15% of a society's quality of life.”

Vince Kuraitis, J.D., MBA, Principal and Founder of Better Health Technologies, LLC explains that “definitions of population health usually focus on improving the health and health outcomes of a population. That said, the understanding and point of view of population health managers will vary greatly. Consider three highly variable factors in populations: 1. What's the COMPOSITION of YOUR POPULATION? The answer will vary depending upon whether you are a health plan, a physician practice, an employer or the government. 2. How STABLE is your population? How long do you expect it to remain with you? If you are a health plan, you will expect 18% to 20% annual churn in membership and an average tenure of around three years. If you are Medicare, your members will be with you for the rest of their lives. 3. Are you at FINANCIAL RISK for the health of your population? Upside risk? Downside risk? What are the details?   These factors will affect the economics of a population and in turn, the type and timing of potential interventions. Population managers will consider ROI as a primary metric for evaluating success. While this might seem narrow, it's very real. For example, if you are a health plan, you are more likely to invest in a congestive heart failure disease management program that has potential to identify patients and interventions that will keep patients from being admitted to a hospital within the next one to three years. If you are Medicare, you might consider a diabetes prevention that promises to reduce eye or foot problems over the course of 15 years.”

Finally, Al Lewis, Founder and President of the Disease Management Purchasing Consortium International, Inc. informs us that “population health is the provision of free (or financially incentivized) health-related tests, education and support services to groups who are (rightly or wrongly) believed—due to demographics, claims history or even company/health plan policy—to be at risk for chronic disease or chronic disease exacerbations absent those interventions, whether or not such interventions are requested by the employee or member.”

The second issue of Population Health News will include additional responses from Population Health Thought Leaders. Stay tuned.

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