Industry Trends: Population Health Management

Industry Trends: Population Health Management

The population health movement has been gaining momentum over the past decade, particularly since the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But the definition of population health and what it means is often misunderstood, or viewed by many employers as something that is too complicated or too daunting of a challenge to implement.  It is, in many cases, seen as a concept only for the ‘big companies’—those with analytics and data to drill down and identify root causes of illness. Although there is some truth to that statement, population health is not exclusive to a certain segment of business, but an ideal that can be homogenized over all businesses, corporations and communities.

The resources dedicated to population health are endless—there are books, blogs, college courses, and more. It can get technical and complicated, and filled with analytical views of how we as a nation need to change our habits to alter the course of our health care cost trend. But for now, allow me to simplify that population health at its very core is building a culture of health and wellness. And it doesn’t just mean biometric screenings and walking programs at work. It truly means a deep culture of health and wellness.

Employers have a considerable stake in keeping employees healthy and containing health care costs. As we know, if employees as a population are well, productivity is high and business is good. If employees are not well, both they and their employers are burdened with not just absenteeism but also presenteeism (working while sick or disengaged), causing decreased productivity and higher health care costs.

The concepts of population health run deep, but in the end, all break down to the main mortality of health behavior risk factors in the United States.

Below are the biggest factors that affect you and your employees (from Journal of American Medicine):

Lifestyle — 51%

Heredity — 20%

Environment — 19%

Health Services – 10%

Surprising or not, your lifestyle affects your mortality and health over half as much as any other influencer.

It begs a deeper dive into lifestyle health determinants. Most are impacted in some way by an employer: 

Physical environment—safe water and clean air, healthy workplaces, safe houses, communities and roads all contribute to good health.

Education—low education levels are linked with poor health, more stress and lower self-confidence. 

Employment and working conditions – people in employment are healthier, particularly those who have more control over their working conditions.

Income and social status—higher income and social status are linked to better health. The greater the gap between the richest and poorest people,  the greater differences in health. 

Social support networks—greater support from families, friends and communities is linked to better health. 

Culture—customs and traditions, and the beliefs of the family and community all affect health. 

Genetics—inheritance plays a part in determining lifespan, healthiness and the likelihood of developing certain illnesses. 

Personal behavior and coping skills—Balanced eating, keeping active, smoking, drinking, and how we deal with life’s stresses and challenges all affect health.

Health services—access and use of the services that prevent and treat disease influences health.

Gender—Men and women suffer from different types of diseases at different ages.

It should be no surprise that employers believe they can and should play a role in improving the health status not only for their employees, but also the communities in which they operate and their employees live and work.  As an employer, you can work daily to positively impact the health of your population. By working on population health, the belief is that we can positively affect the trend cost curve.

Special thanks to Dr. Raymond J. Fabius for his input and outline to this article.