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Global Healthcare Megatrends: Population Health Management

There are more than 7 billion people on the planet today. Our growing global population has triggered some of the biggest healthcare challenges we’ll ever face. Listening to clients in Australia, Canada, Singapore, United Kingdom and United States, I believe many of these issues are universal. This post is one of a five-part series that explores the clinical, population health, financial, regulatory and technical challenges we share as a global healthcare community.

What should we call it?

There is a concept emerging in healthcare that – despite its universal nature – does not have a common, global name. Called “population health management” in the United States, it’s an approach many healthcare organizations are taking to improve outcomes for groups of patients in their community.

In Canada, people often call it “chronic disease management.” Others may refer to it as community health. What you call it may be different, but the core concepts are the same.

An approach for every group of patients

What is the population? If I am the minister of health of a nation, it’s the entire country. If I am the CEO of a healthcare organization I may be responsible for tens of thousands of lives in my region.  If I am a primary care provider, my population may be 1,000 patients. Regardless of population size, the goal is the same: deliver quality care to the entire population.

That care includes everything from wellness to chronic disease management, from acute care to prevention. Healthcare has focused on patients with chronic disease, because these are the highest risk, highest cost patients. But a true population health strategy helps people maintain good health, too.

Providers around the world recognize that to properly manage any patient group, they need information and insight. They need to connect to all of the electronic medical records (EMRs)* in their communities, to glean everything they can about the population they are managing.

This includes data about the population regardless of where that information originated.  For instance, I need to know that one of my patients went to the Emergency Room even if is outside of my hospital system.

Engaging patients in their own care

To have good outcomes, we must involve patients in their own care. That involvement will only happen with consistent communication, using all of the tools available to us.

One of the avenues that is very popular outside the United States is text messaging – or Short Message Service (SMS). Caregivers use it to remind diabetic patients to make follow-up appointments or remind maternity patients to take their vitamins. This form of communication is cheap, which is good for developing countries.

Caregivers around the world are turning to patient portals to communicate with patients. But there are distinct cultural differences as to how countries view data ownership. For instance, U.S. caregivers are more likely to say that the data belongs to the patient. However caregivers in other countries are more hesitant. They want to make sure patients understand the data and maintain some control over it.

Our best defense against pandemics

Remember the SARS outbreak? As we live in an increasingly mobile world, health issues in one region may rapidly impact geographies on the other side of the world.  Therefore, rapid recognition of new diseases or the spread of known illness is vital.  Real-time analysis of patient populations can lead to syndromic surveillance and early identification of disease trends within a community.

Given the sweeping implications of these challenges, it’s understandable that no one has mastered population health management. There is one aspect to these strategies that everyone agrees is key to success: the human factor. Working together person to person – not just provider to patient – will make all the difference.

What’s your preferred term for population health management? What do you think are keys to success?

* Electronic Patient Record (EPR) is another term for Electronic Medical Record (EMR) or Electronic Health Record (EHR).

Editor’s Note: In Dr. Samo’s next blog post, he’ll discuss the financial challenges we share in global healthcare. In his previous blog post, he discussed clinical challenges.

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