Population health management definitions are still being formalized. However, this hasn’t stopped the concept from gaining traction among governments, advocacy groups and healthcare professionals. The aim of population health management is to encourage collaboration between these three groups to facilitate outcome-focused care at a group level, not on an individual basis.

image: freedigitalphotos.net/StuartMiles

image: freedigitalphotos.net/StuartMiles

By examining healthcare practices through a population health management lens, those involved either directly or peripherally in the healthcare industry can refine the processes to reflect a model where determinants and outcomes are viewed as an interconnected whole.

If this scope sounds like a lot to take on at once, realize that yes, it is. The good news is that no one person is being asked to tackle population health management individually. Instead, all people must serve their proper roles in the population-wide model to ensure that processes are leading to better outcomes.

image: freedigitalphotos.net/photostock

image: freedigitalphotos.net/photostock

Individuals who want to engage with this responsibility head-on will have a better chance than ever before to manage health outcomes in an effective, consistent and predictive manner. People with this desire can look to thought leaders such as W. Edwards Deming, whose management principles helped private businesses achieve higher quality, customer-centered outcomes with many of the same goals as current healthcare industry movements.

Population Health Management Definition

Population health is a broad term developed to service shortcomings that healthcare industry professionals identified in traditional patient care and public health models. David Kindig, a pioneer in the population health movement, helped coin the term and establish a firm definition in a 2003 paper entitled “What Is Population Health?

image: freedigitalphotos.net/renjithkrishnan

image: freedigitalphotos.net/renjithkrishnan

In it, Kindig asserts that the definition should be “the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.” He and his colleagues also “argue that the field of population health includes health outcomes, patterns of health determinants, and policies and interventions that link these two.”

In a further effort to differentiate the population healthcare management definition from the aims of public health, Michael A. Stoto suggests that “population health differs from public health, at least perceptually, in at least two respects. First, it is less directly tied to governmental health departments. Second, it explicitly includes the healthcare delivery system, which is sometimes seen as separate from or even in opposition to governmental public health.”

These discrepancies may not seem like a lot on paper, but they help drift population health toward a more system-focused and goal-oriented process of tackling healthcare problems that plague groups on a community-wide level.
Stoto also notes that in other models “no single entity can be held accountable for health outcomes.” By considering determinants and outcomes collectively while applying accountability for goal accomplishment, population health management can hopefully convert healthcare processes to be more in line with business practices that emphasize consistent delivery of quality while accomplishing stated goals.

How Deming Can Help

image: freedigitalphotos.net/stuartmiles

image: freedigitalphotos.net/stuartmiles

W. Edwards Deming was a legendary quality control and management technique thought leader who helped introduce statistical analysis and process management to the business world. His lectures delivered to the post-World War II Japanese business community have been credited with having helped inspire a quality-focused business culture that revived Japan’s economy from the ashes in a mere decade.

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Quality Improvement Lies in the Science of Process Management

If there is a consistent lack of quality in your outcomes, then the problem lies in the process, not individual shortcomings. Only scientific analysis and rigorous re-evaluation can lead to new processes that create more consistent quality in outcomes.

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In God We Trust; All Others Must Bring Data

Without data and measurement, there can never be any objective improvement. The right metrics must be selected, and goals must be set so that processes can be oriented to improving those metrics. Only data can prove whether a change has truly occurred.

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Managed Care Means Managed Processes, Not Managed Workers

As stated before, micromanaging individuals has little effect on system-wide results. If population health management professionals want to achieve more positive results, they will have to evaluate their processes and ensure that those processes are being instituted properly and consistently. They must also try to leverage physicians, nurses and other workers for input on how to improve these processes instead of forcefully integrating them into a system they believe is faulty.

By looking to your workers for guidance, focusing on processes and using hard numbers to measure outcomes, real strides can be made in the field of population health management so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of good health, not just a lucky few or those with deep pockets. Moving into the future, ideas like these and population health management definitions will, hopefully, lead to happier communities and an improvement in the quality of care for everyone.