Population health management has become an important competency for hospitals and health systems. But the path to implementing effective population health strategies is fraught with challenges: monitoring chronic disease rates and preventing community transmission, triaging emergencies in routine health circumstances, and delivering preventive services all require providers to change their traditional workflow for a fee.
Advanced healthcare platforms, such as digital gateways, are emerging as an answer to some of these challenges. Digital gateways can help process large amounts of demographic data related to community health and population well-being.
Healthcare IT News sat down with Keith Algozin, CEO of UCM Digital Health, a digital gateway technology provider, to address the aforementioned challenges; how digital gateways can help population health; how digital front doors work behind the scenes to achieve goals; and how digital gateways work with enhanced health benefits such as home care and treatment, virtual primary care and therapeutics to empower populations to take control of their health for the better.
Q. What are some of the challenges facing successful population health management programs today?
A. More and more organizations are looking for ways to improve the health of the populations they serve. They understand that “health” is more than just “health care” and strive to make a positive impact on health.
Implementing population health initiatives comes with challenges. Expertise and expertise are needed, which is why many organizations are looking to third-party partners to help them implement health improvement initiatives. These initiatives are often outside the realm of direct care and fall into the realm of social determinants of health.
Once a population health initiative is defined, the challenge becomes identifying the right individuals for outreach and customizing the approach to meet the unique needs of patients. Overall health depends on ensuring that patients receive timely, medically appropriate preventive care and that patients with chronic conditions are proactively followed up to prevent future complications.
There is no doubt that patient engagement and involvement in their care is critical to improving health. For example, many patients know there are things they can do to improve or maintain their health, but don’t do them because of unhealthy barriers.
It is not enough to urge someone to see a primary care provider; we must make sure that they have transportation to get to the appointment and that their work schedule or other responsibilities and circumstances do not interfere, making it difficult or impossible to attend an in-person medical examination.
Once an initiative is defined and implemented, patient adherence, compliance and outcome tracking are the keys to continued success. Because data doesn’t always integrate seamlessly at various points along a patient’s healthcare journey, providers and other organizations don’t always get a complete picture of patient compliance and outcome tracking.
A robust data platform can be effective in bridging this gap. This allows different organizations to have visibility into each other’s data and information, allowing for a more complete understanding of that patient’s health.
Q. You suggest that digital gateways can help healthcare provider organizations overcome some of these challenges. how?
A. Digital gateways can be effective in removing barriers while ensuring patients receive a continuum of care tailored to their individual needs. Provider organizations often cannot reach the patients who would benefit most from population health programs.
Digital health and digital gateways can be an effective means of giving any patient access to a medical or mental health care provider, removing barriers by allowing patients to connect via phone, chat, video or even asynchronously. Care can start digitally, but can also extend into the home with a combination of hands-on support from medical professionals working alongside telemedicine providers virtually.
Programs can be created to proactively identify and reach the right populations to conduct wellness visits, close gaps in care, and address social determinants of health by connecting to community resources, as examples.
Moving a health appointment into a virtual visit can break down many barriers and enable success in population health initiatives. For example, with digital first care, the patient does not have to worry about travel and transportation to get to the appointment. Time and money spent on commuting are saved.
Productivity is achieved at work and at home. Taking a few minutes off work or household duties for a virtual visit may be more feasible for many people than spending several hours traveling to and from an in-person meeting. A virtual provider can even tour a home via video recording to identify hazards or other social determinants of health and help the patient with next steps to address them.
You can’t act if you don’t know. In traditional healthcare, information is fragmented. Collecting information about health and unhealthy conditions allows you to determine actions that can be taken to improve the patient’s health. An effective data platform can facilitate data sharing and integration, giving providers and other organizations complete visibility into a patient’s health information, including the ability to track compliance and population health program outcomes.
An effective data platform can solve data interoperability issues, further enabling population health initiatives. For example, platforms can have the ability to understand and translate different sets of codes across organizations so that they can arrive at a common understanding of patient data and information, ultimately improving health outcomes.
Q. How do digital front doors work behind the scenes to achieve these goals?
A. Patients want convenience, and a digital front door can provide it. Digital front doors can be opened 24/7/365, giving patients access when they really need it, with wait times that are often non-existent or minimal.
The quality of care is equal to, if not higher than, care provided in a traditional physical setting. Providers are often able to spend more time with patients and provide special individualized, personalized attention and care. For the patient, no time is wasted in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, where the patient also risks exposure to other diseases.
Patient consent is also higher in the digital space, with data coming out of the National Library of Medicine showing that patients are less likely to miss a telemedicine appointment. And with on-demand care, no appointment is necessary.
A common data platform can be effective in connecting patient data across organizations to get a complete picture of the patient, enabling whole-person care and looking at the patient holistically instead of discrete, isolated medical meetings.
It can be effective in bringing together multiple platform partners that can enable optimal patient care. For example, connecting a partner that provides home labs together with a telehealth provider and a regular primary care physician to enable data sharing and collaboration for patient health, the appropriate level of care, and the best outcomes as the goals.
Q: How can digital gateways work with enhanced health benefits such as home care and treatment, virtual primary care and therapies to empower the population to take control of their health for the better?
A. This really is the future of care. Digital gateways can provide a single point of entry and experience for the patient. They provide patients with access to enhanced benefits as they offer access to a range of services for patients in a variety of care settings: virtual urgent and urgent care, virtual mental health care, virtual primary care, home care and more.
Patients can begin care digitally, receive complete care virtually, or continue it at home if and when needed. Patients are given their choice and are empowered to choose how and when to interact with the healthcare system.
We are entering a digital landscape where doctors and paramedics can work together to provide care at home as an alternative to an ambulance trip to a hospital emergency room.
We’re seeing 911 systems that can now connect a caller to a nurse navigator or telemedicine physician to meet health needs without hours-long waits in the emergency room, making care more accessible, affordable and safer. And it uses scarce health care resources wisely, for example, by allowing paramedics and 911 centers to focus on real emergencies.
Digital gateways can make up for many things our healthcare system should be doing, but isn’t. How much better off would a patient be if a health care provider checked in with them again three days after a virtual visit to make sure treatment and recovery are going as planned?
How much more would this digital engagement and tracking increase adherence to population health programs, along with patient satisfaction and overall health? A digital presence is clearly the future of care, enabling providers to create meaningful connections with patients and other organizations and engaging patients in their health.