What is Population Health?
Population health looks at the data of an entire group instead of an individual patient and considers not only the general state of health of the population, but typical outcomes as well. The term “population health” is a broad one and the group examined can be defined in a variety of ways; your chosen population could be a specific town or city, race or even age group. Viewing data across a broad population can help determine the best practices of care for that particular group and allow for that group’s needs to be anticipated and met.
William Edwards Deming was a scientist and engineer and is best known for his principles of productivity; his approaches are often modeled by organizations looking to boost efficiency and quality while lowering costs. Deming’s involvement was a key component of Japan’s recovery after WWII; he also brought his unique take on the tie between quality and productivity to corporations in the US, including the Ford Motor company. This attention to quality helped Japan rebound after WWII and become a booming economy just a decade later; it also helped Ford and other US car makers understand why Japanese motors were outperforming homegrown products year after year. Applying these same principles to population health can help improve outcomes and as a natural byproduct of that improved care, reduce costs as well.
The Deming Philosophy and Healthcare
The Deming philosophy or approach at its most basic states that when an organization focuses on improving quality, costs will naturally fall over time. Conversely, an organization that is focused on costs will find their quality dwindling over time. This philosophy can be applied to a variety of industries – including healthcare. When we focus on improving care and outcomes, we can expect costs to drop; focus too much on costs and the quality of care can easily slip.
Applying Deming Principles to Healthcare
*Managed Care = Managed Processes
The concept of managed care is less about planning the daily work of individual providers and more about the way that the entire process works. The broad approach that is taken to care will have a larger impact on the health of specific populations; engaging and including physicians and providers in the planning process is a must. These providers are the clinicians actually dealing with clients on a regular basis and their insight could hold the key to improved overall process and better levels of care.
*Engaging Physicians in the Process of Care
Including working physicians in the conversation will greatly improve both the approach to care and the outcomes. Doctors, nurses and other providers are working “in the trenches” daily and already have the skills and knowledge to predict what methods will work and what will not. Incorporating frontline care providers in conversations about population health is a must if we are going to properly serve that population and understand what will work (and what won’t).
*Accurate and Timely Data is a Must
“In God we trust…and all others must bring data.” William Edwards Deming
This Deming quote is at the heart of why data is so important. If we can’t measure population health data, there is no way to tell if measures are resulting in improved outcomes, worsened outcomes or having no impact at all. The ability to measure and compare data from a specified population is a must; without accurate data and the ability to analyze it, there is no way to determine if measures designed to improve care have any actual impact at all.
The quality based approach outlined by Deming offers many advantages and possibilities for population health and for healthcare in general. For true gains to be made, the right data must be collected and accessible, front line caregivers need to be involved in the planning process and a broad approach to care for a specific population needs to be implemented.