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In the healthcare industry today, there has been an increasing interest in population health strategies. As a result of new financial incentives and payment models, hospitals and other health organizations recognize this is an area that will improve patient outcomes and control spending. The interoperability of this data will play a role in population health's success.

Early adopters of population health initiatives face significant challenges when it comes to seeing a full picture of the population's data, some of which may reside outside of the hospital system. Lack of access to meaningful information could mean that some of these initiatives may not progress forward enough to make a difference.

When considering population health management, the idea is to offer a full-service delivery network so that patients receive access to treatments and programs that keep them involved in their health and improve care. Patients who are at a greater risk stand to benefit the most from population health.

This goal is accomplished through connecting different organizations that provide care for patients and engaging patients inside healthcare facilities as well in their homes.

Care hubs set the stage for data interoperability

The success of population health strategies relies on creating care hubs that offer direction around what services a patient must seek and connect with.

The interoperability of data will play a role in population health's success.

In most proposed and implemented initiatives, primary care physicians and nonphysician care coordinators are likely to be the ideal candidates for developing such hubs. Healthcare professionals must have visibility into their patients' comprehensive health data -- in other words, data not just from the primary care physician's EHR setup, but also from systems at different health entities.

One of the challenges today for population health initiatives is the lack of data interoperability. Because patient data is locked in a variety of places -- e.g., hospital systems, retail clinics, pharmacies, medical devices, environmental data and social media -- it is difficult for care coordinators to gain a comprehensive view of patient information if all those sources do not talk to each other. 

Community involvement helps data sharing

Some hospitals have made progress in reducing data access hurdles by setting up partnerships with community-based entities and payers. And for those hospitals that have specialists as well as primary care physicians under the same system, a large set of data is already available and shared among part of the care team.

As federal health officials continue to push for more data interoperability, a shared savings payment model and greater innovation in collaboration platforms, population health strategies will see wider interest and success. Concerns remain about what independent physicians will meet the challenges around data connectivity or funding to help support these initiatives.

Over time, lessons learned from the early adopters may provide insights for those who are interested in joining the effort in order to make a difference in their communities.  

Next Steps

Q&A: How to improve population health outcomes

Buying population health technology? Check out this guide

More on the relationship between data and population health

This was last published in June 2016
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