The U.S. healthcare system is one of the costliest in the world. Remarkably, over 17 percent of our GDP goes towards healthcare-related expenses. However, despite our system being one of the most expensive, it unfortunately lacks in quality. According to a 2014 Commonwealth Fund study, when compared to 11 other first world nations — including Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia, and France — the U.S. healthcare system ranked last in terms of overall quality of care.
So, how exactly do we improve healthcare quality in the U.S.? Many healthcare providers might consider calling for more resources as the next logical step, but our system is already costly, and pulling more resources is not a reasonable alternative. Instead, providers are aiming to become more efficient with the resources already available. One approach that many providers are focusing on is population health management. First coined by David Kindig and Greg Stoddart in 2003, “population health” is defined as “the health outcome of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.” Basically, this term relates to measuring the health outcomes of patients. But how exactly does a provider manage these outcomes and how do they measure results? That’s where “population health management” comes into play.
The term relates to gathering patient data, analyzing it, developing an easy-to-understand records system, curating a strategy to effectively target solutions for a set patient population, and then following-up on results to make sure those efforts were effective. By doing this and relying on evidence-driven strategies to use their limited resources efficiently, providers can improve quality of care and also decrease overall expenditures.
Here are four areas where healthcare organizations or providers can introduce change to further their population health management plans.
1. Engaging Patients Before and After Care
First, providers should work on taking responsibility for patients outside the so-called “healthcare wall”—or, in other words, patients who’ve already received care. For example, according to the Portland Press Herald, a medical study led by Dr. Reena Duseja examined records related to ER visits in six different states from 2006 to 2011. Duseja’s research team studied data related to 53-million ER visits, and they found that roughly eight percent of patients returned within three days. One in five returned within a month. Providers need to find a way to engage patients and help them keep on track with their care so they can avoid repeat visits. Establishing a better communication strategy between providers and patients can help to decrease patient returns.
2. Developing Insights into Specific Populations
According to the CDC, 83 percent of total health spending in the U.S. is tied to the treatment of chronic illnesses. However, despite chronic illnesses accounting for a sizable chunk of health expenditures, few patients actually receive regular preventive services or follow-up treatments for their respective chronic diseases. Only 33 percent of women and 40 percent of men over the age of 65 years old are currently up-to-date with the preventative services they need consistently.
One opportunity for reducing the costs associated with repeat visits, is the implementation of risk assessment strategies. Providers can use risk assessment tests to determine which patients are the most susceptible to chronic illnesses, and then use a notification system to help remind patients that they need to maintain certain measures to avoid medical issues. Not only will this help to keep certain risky patients from incurring too many repeat visits, but it will also help spread awareness about the importance of preventative measures, and it will help care providers concentrate resources on specific patients in-need.
3. Enhancing Patient Education
Oftentimes, patients do have access to the preventative measures they require to help treat certain chronic illnesses. Unfortunately, patients forget about their required treatments, and in some cases, some patients are simply unaware that they needed specific treatments. Nurses and doctors, pressed for time, sometimes aren’t able to fully educate patients on the services and medicines they need to treat their illnesses. Providers can use a text messaging based system to not only keep in touch with patients about upcoming appointments or necessary treatments, but they can use the system to educate patients and spread awareness. Community prevention efforts, like education, are extremely effective at combating chronic diseases. One study noted that community prevention efforts could save the U.S. healthcare system from spending $600 billion in chronic diseases treatments over the course of 25 years.
4. Improving Communication
According to a 2011 Pew Study, three quarters of Americans send and receive text messages consistently. From teenagers to seniors, large swaths of the American population text multiple times throughout the day. It’s important for providers to develop an efficient means of communicating with patients, and texting is one of the most potent methods. By using a text messaging based service, a provider can accurately understand the needs of its patients, as well as develop a channel for ongoing communication, helping to create new opportunities for risk assessment and patient awareness. In short, if a provider hopes to implement productive population health strategies to increase efficiency and cut down on costs, they should consider incorporating text messaging into their communication and engagment strategies.
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