Each of us is unique, yet each of us is also quite similar. Both characteristics plays a part when understanding and bettering a population’s health. We all contribute a vast amount of information that is utilized in the healthcare system to improve our grasp of ways in which we stay healthy or at least work on getting better. But, information is only points on a graph unless it is grouped together, classified and utilized in a way that produces definable patterns that can be acted upon. This is what population health models are all about.
Population health management is an up and coming buzz phrase in the healthcare community that has a lot of significance to the future of care for an individual and within a community or population. Due to the concept being in its infancy, a truly solid definition hasn’t been completely agreed upon, but most healthcare professionals have come to the consensus that it involves a long-term look at extending life as well as improving the quality of life for any given individual.
To manage the health and care of a population, it is necessary to have a strategy and understanding of how best to do this. A population health model is that strategy and the data collected by healthcare organizations points the direction of where that plan should head. What is actually happening is that the massive amount of data helps create a health cycle, which is a predictive model of what many individuals will fit into within their life. This plays into the fact that we like to be unique, but truly we are all somewhat alike. There are natural progressions that follow absolutes such as a women must get pregnant to have a baby, thus pregnancy and the gestational period are fundamental and will never change.
Within the health cycle, there are patterns that help to identify where people might be categorized and then where the population health model can then group them to help aid in preventative care and future needs each person will have. Some of these indicators include:
- Propensity for contracting diseases
- General risk factor, whether internal or external
- Basic health factors
- Outcomes in healthcare treatments
- Life expectancy
- Quality of life
All of these and many more help to produce a blueprint of how a population will live. However, it is hard to create and implement an overhauling plan for healthcare because there are so many moving parts, you don’t have perfect data to work from and it is a huge expense for everyone involved. Something this big has to come from the top down, which means it comes from the government, with all of its regulations and inflexibility – especially if change is necessary. Many people use the example of Obamacare to prove their point: overreaching powers of the government to force every citizen to have health insurance and follow healthcare protocols or to pay fines and fees.
As a result, many healthcare organizations have succeeded in working within the guidelines that have been established and yet growing to provide improved care at a lower cost for their patients. Each clinic and facility knows best how to offer treatments for their patients and this is directly due to them having the data, knowing what that data means and planning for the people they serve. A health model doesn’t have to be, and in most cases isn’t, some gigantic task that is insurmountable. In fact, most facilities serve their populous without dictates from a government and beyond any minimum standard as they already understand the importance of following a population health model.
The healthcare industry has also turned to other technological advances to help identify and intervene in population health. They have turned to social media and other internet-based advertising to help get the word out. Millennials, and for that matter Boomers and Gen Xers, turn to the internet for answers much more often than you might realize. This goes much further than looking up symptoms on WebMD; they also post on forums, ask questions on Facebook and search other people’s questions on Quora. What you may not realize is that not only are these great areas for answers, but they also contribute to population health models because the searches are tied to geographic area. Who knew?
To improve the health of a population, there is so much that is needed, and so much that will be analyzed as a way of predicting the future. Of course no one can predict the future perfectly, but if there are ways in which we can understand what they future might hold, we really should be doing all we can to make that happen. When we plan better, we waste less time and effort on things that won’t make a difference. This is exactly what a population health model is doing, and in an industry as large and expensive as healthcare, every ounce of help can truly be a pound of cure.
Images courtesy of: