How the pandemic has changed population health strategy: 3 experts weigh in

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused healthcare leaders to rethink population health initiatives. During a Nov. 11 panel at Becker's CEO + CFO Virtual Event, three population health executives discussed how their strategies have shifted due to the pandemic and how they are planning for the future.

Healthcare executives participating in the panel were: 

  • Kevin Conroy, CFO and chief population health officer at Chappaqua, N.Y.-based CareMount Medical 
  • John Chomeau, chief population health officer at Fort Myers, Fla.-based Lee Health 
  • Debbie Welle-Powell, chief population health officer at Duluth, Minn.-based Essentia Health

Here is an excerpt from the conversation, lightly edited for clarity. To view the full session on demand, click here.

Question: What shifts in population health strategy do you see continuing post-pandemic?

Mr. Chomeau: One component I'm asking our organizations to [do is] solve one of the large missing pieces of population health, which is the integration of behavioral and mental health. That's where we're trying to go with some of the work we're doing in the community. We know behavioral health is a huge contributing factor to the outcomes of patients, but how do we make the behavioral and mental health side of the equation seamlessly integrated and have it work alongside our best medical professionals and pharmacists to really change the outcome of the patient?

In the state of Florida, we have a long way to go. I think if we can solve that piece post-pandemic and eliminate stress amongst our community, as well as anxiety, depression, insomnia and substance use disorder related to all those factors, I think we'll have a transformational engine that we can rely on for population health in the future.

Mr. Conroy: It is a focus of CareMount's to integrate behavioral health [into our population health strategy]. Just last week, we were talking with a group that is interested in taking advantage of both telemedicine and behavioral health and joining forces with us because we recognize the importance of integrating that component, or otherwise you're not going to get a lot of the outcomes you're seeking.

We're trying to figure out where we could go in terms of the next type of chronic conditions approach we're taking on. We're looking into setting up the infrastructure, setting up the reporting, getting physicians in line [as well as] the patient community. But what we're really focused on is some of those chronic conditions management, those [diabetes mellitus] type of approaches that are very important. We are beginning to scratch the surface in diabetes, congestive heart failure and those types of group pieces moving forward. Making a focus on those is the next step, the next iteration of value-based medicine in our organization. 

Ms. Welle-Powell: The element of risk, being accountable for the cost and quality of the patient population, we think is a game changer. I think we're going to see the government continue to push risk on providers being accountable, giving them data so they understand how they're performing on total cost of care, how they're performing on those [Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information] measures, or those gaps in care, and how well they are engaging the patient. I think that is absolutely going to continue.

We've seen it with CMS and their shared savings programs. State Medicaid, we've got a little problem with the budget at the state level. We've expanded Medicaid, and rightly so, to members that need help. I think we're going to see more risk being transferred to the provider. Those providers who are willing to take on more and have a layer of systems and resources to build on, I think will position themselves to be successful in this value-based world. From our experience, this is the only way we want to provide care. That is really understanding the patient's needs. The social needs we know for many of our populations is really significant.

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