Should IT or doctors lead population health programs? It's not so clear cut

Keeping physicians engaged is important, but health systems need their technology teams involved from the start, execs say at Pop Health Forum.
By Tom Sullivan
09:57 AM
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Pop Health Forum Boston 2017

BOSTON -- Learning how to plan, execute and participate in population health management programs is challenging for technologists and physicians alike.

But questions remain over who is best-suited to take the lead on population health.

“Population health is not a physician-driven enterprise,” said St. Joseph Hospital CEO Richard Boehler during a panel discussion at the Pop Health Forum in Boston Monday. “But if you don’t have physicians engaged and a strong care management team, you don’t have a system.”


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UMass Memorial Healthcare’s associate vice president of population health strategy and technology Renee Broadbent agreed that it’s crucial to engage doctors. She recommended getting doctors on board as part of the broader organizational alignment before investing heavily in technology.

“Population health is a series of systems,” Broadbent said. “It’s not as many as 25, but it’s not one.”

Ann Wells, MD, an internist in Kaiser Permanente Colorado’s prevention and chronic care solutions unit, said that it’s critical to ensure you have the right operational responsibilities in place.

“Population health programs need to be physician-led, but IT must be involved from the start,” Wells said.

IT’s role at Kaiser, boiled down, is to use all available data to deliver clinicians a well-rounded and continually expanded picture of the patient and do so at the point of care.

David Chou, CIO and chief data officer at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, said that IT is at center of the health system’s entire ecosystem and knows how the data flows, which is a key component of population health programs.

That said, Chou recommended not focusing too much on cutting-edge technologies at the expense of user training.

And Thomas Scornavacca, senior medical director of population health at UMass Memorial, said that population health programs are not an “evil empire” battling against doctors. 

“Technology is important but it’s not the whole solution,” Wells said. “Population health management is a team sport.” 


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