Healthcare executives discuss solutions to 3 top population health challenges

Healthcare organizations' adoption of population health management projects indicates a major shift in the industry: Today, hospitals are no longer only providing acute care within their own four walls, but they are also attempting to promote patient well-being outside of their facilities.

During a roundtable discussion sponsored and moderated by RedMane Technology at the Becker's 5th Annual CEO + CFO Roundtable Nov. 9 in Chicago, 18 executives from hospitals and health systems across the country shared the obstacles they are facing in transitioning to a population health model of care and how they are addressing those challenges.

Here are three of the key challenges the executives discussed:  

Challenge No. 1: Engaging patients. The CEO of a critical access hospital in Wisconsin said her organization has struggled with one of the major aspects of population health: patient engagement. Specifically, this CEO said her hospital is having trouble getting patients to follow through with their treatment plans. Low patient engagement is a common challenge hospitals face on the road to population health. In fact, 42 percent of the 340 healthcare executives, clinicians and clinical leaders included in the 2016 NEJM Catalyst Patient Engagement Survey indicated less than a quarter of their patients were highly engaged.

Solution discussion: During the roundtable discussion, the CEO of a 77-bed nonprofit hospital in Michigan said providing seamless, coordinated care is key to improving patient engagement. This involves making the patient a member of the care team by establishing open communication between the clinician and the patient to allow them to work collaboratively to drive the course of treatment. Physicians should also involve patient caregivers in discussions to help ensure patients follow through with treatment instructions once they are at home.

Challenge No. 2: Motivating physicians. Physicians play a key role in improving population health management efforts. Managing population health requires engaging the patient after the visit, meaning physicians must begin to see the broader picture and not just the patient in front of them. During the roundtable discussion, the CEO of a 67-bed nonprofit hospital in Wisconsin said physicians and other care providers are critical for success in implementing population health management programs. "If you can't engage the people who are a part of your organization in the process, then you're going to fail," he said.

Although physician involvement is vital to success, several executives expressed that their organizations have struggled to find ways to engage physicians in the transition to population health. 

Solution discussion: One way to engage physicians in the process is by finding ways to allow them to share in the cost savings such as through an ACO. Roundtable discussion participants suggested raising compensation is another way to motivate physicians. However, one executive warned this approach may not be effective across the board. "We see a threshold with physician compensation," said the CEO of a 70-bed hospital in Indiana. He said from his observations compensation is a more effective motivator for older physicians.

Challenge No. 3: Addressing community health needs. To achieve success under a population health model, hospitals and health systems must proactively manage patients' health needs, which can present challenges, according to the roundtable discussion participants.

Solution discussion: This can involve establishing partnerships with other healthcare and community service providers in the area and investing in infrastructure. During the discussion, hospital executives provided examples of how hospitals and health systems across the country have proactively helped meet community members' needs outside of the traditional scope of healthcare. One roundtable discussion participant highlighted ProMedica's efforts in Toledo, Ohio. In 2015, ProMedica opened a full-service grocery store to provide fresh and affordable healthy food choices to residents of a designated food desert in Toledo's UpTown neighborhood.

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