Population health picking up steam, IT maturing, but more innovation is needed

Our top takeaways from the Pop Health Forum 2017 in Boston.
By Tom Sullivan
01:25 PM

The U.S. healthcare system is broken, focusing on patients is the way to fix it, population health initiatives are on the rise, and executives need to prepare for more changes ahead.

Those were the overarching themes of the HIMSS and Healthcare IT News Pop Health Forum in Boston.

At the event, thought leaders and a technology vendor research study indicated that both pop health and value-based care are here to stay.

1. Value in healthcare

“Nathan Tierney

Veterans Affairs director of value management Nathan Tierney, in fact, said that creating value for patients should be the primary focal point in healthcare. “If we focus more on outcomes and less on cost,” Tierney said, “we could actually improve the broken healthcare system in this country.”

2. Creating culture of innovation


Achieving that value is going to require innovation. To that end, Leora Horwitz, MD, who directs the Center for Healthcare Innovation and Delivery Science at New York University Langone Medical Center, offered 5 tips for igniting a culture of innovation.

But exactly who leads those population health and innovation efforts is a matter of some debate. One argument suggests that IT should take the reigns but seek physician input from the get-go; another contends the programs must be led by physicians and include IT as early in the discussions as possible. Ann Wells, MD, an internist in Kaiser Permanente Colorado’s prevention and chronic care solutions unit offered another take: “Technology is important but it’s not the whole solution. Population Health is a team sport.”

3. Deploying population health tools

Brendan FitzgeraldHospitals are already deploying a fistful of technologies within their population health programs, according to HIMSS Analytics research director Brendan FitzGerald. The most common are EHRs, patient portals and patient engagement tools, while others include data aggregation software, health information exchange platforms as well as business intelligence and analytics software.  “There is no silver bullet but it doesn’t have to be 30 different products,” FitzGerald said. 

HIMSS Analytics also found that 76 percent of respondents to its survey have population health initiatives in place during 2016, up from 67 percent in 2015.

4. Emerging tech balance with government policy

Pop Health initiatives

Exactly which existing or emerging technologies will fuel population health work in the future remains to be seen — and so do any forthcoming changes to healthcare policy, rules and regulations from the nation’s capital.

In the meantime, health and IT executives need to be ready to adapt to whatever happens and ensuring that patients have access to care is a big part of that.

“What’s next? Nobody knows,” Palmetto Health chief value and informatics officer Tripp Jennings said. “But it’s going to be a mess.”

Twitter: @SullyHIT

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