We Can’t Afford To Be Vague About Population Health Challenges

Posted on June 19, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Today, I looked over a recent press release from Black Book Research touting its conclusions on the role of EMR vendors in the population health technology market. Buried in the release were some observations by Alan Hutchison, vice president of Connect & Population Health at Epic.

As part of the text, the release observes that “the shift from quantity-based healthcare to quality-based patient-centric care is clearly the impetus” for population health technology demand. This sets up some thoughts from Hutchison.

The Epic exec’s quote rambles a bit, but in summary, he argues that existing systems are geared to tracking units of care under fee-for-service reimbursement schemes, which makes them dinosaurs.

And what’s the solution to this problem? Why, health systems need to invest in new (Epic) technology geared to tracking patients across their path of care. “Single-solution systems and systems built through acquisition [are] less able to effectively understand the total cost of care and where the greatest opportunities are to reduce variation, improve outcomes and lower costs,” Hutchison says.

Yes, I know that press releases generally summarize things in broad terms, but these words are particularly self-serving and empty, mashing together hot air and jargon into an unappetizing patty. Not only that, I see a little bit too much of stating as fact things which are clearly up for grabs.

Let’s break some of these issues down, shall we?

  • First, I call shenanigans on the notion that the shift to “value-based care” means that providers will deliver quality care over quantity. If nothing else, the shifts in our system can’t be described so easily. Yeah, I know, don’t expect much from a press release, but words matter.
  • Second, though I’m not surprised Hutchison made the argument, I challenge the notion that you must invest in entirely new systems to manage population health.
  • Also, nobody is mentioning that while buying a new system to manage pop health data may be cleaner in some respects, it could make it more difficult to integrate existing data. Having to do that undercuts the value of the new system, and may even overshadow those benefits.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty tired of reading low-calorie vendor quotes about the misty future of population health technology, particularly when a vendor rep claims to have The Answer.  And I’m done with seeing clichéd generalizations about value-based care pass for insight.

Actually, I get a lot more out of analyses that break down what we *don’t* know about the future of population health management.

I want to know what hasn’t worked in transitioning to value-based reimbursement. I hope to see stories describing how health systems identified their care management weaknesses. And I definitely want to find out what worries senior executives about supporting necessary changes to their care delivery models.

It’s time to admit that we don’t yet know how this population health management thing is going to work and abandon the use of terminally vague generalizations. After all, once we do, we can focus on the answering our toughest questions — and that’s when we’ll begin to make real progress.