“The single most unused person in health care is the patient.” a —David M. Cutler
I am the patient. As a breast cancer survivor and “thriver” of seven years, I want not only to be “used,” but also to be “engaged,” “empowered,” “educated,” “informed,” and “involved.”
Choose whichever word you like. Any and all apply when you consider what population health management really means. That’s because it’s ultimately the power of one—the engaged patient, citizen, person with the chronic condition—that will make the difference. It’s a concept that Dave Canfield, HFMA’s national Chair in 2003-04, embraced with his theme: “It’s personal.”
As you read the excellent compilation of population health solutions in this issue, I’d like for you to remember what we already know. The foundation for a healthy population has multiple determinants—health-related behaviors (30 percent), clinical care (20 percent), social and economic factors (40 percent), and physical environment (10 percent). b
This consideration is particularly important for us to understand as healthcare finance professionals. That’s because we control a 20 percent slice of this pie called “population health.” It’s the slice that relates to access and quality of care, and when we work to really influence, help, and support our communities, we can have an impact. We just need to be cognizant of all the other factors that can either obstruct or clear our patients’ path to health.
Healthcare financing represents an important step in the journey toward a healthy, thriving community, and it’s up to us to ensure that step is full of value. We also need to extend our thinking and our interactions with other local entities such as schools, transportation services, and community-based organizations, recognizing that each slice, based on how it embodies a particular perspective on individual patients and their needs, contributes to a thriving “whole.”
So the next time you hear the term population health, I hope you’ll think about it a little differently. Remember that it’s personal, and it’s a population of one that brings about sustainable change. When the most involved person is the patient, we’ll be on our way to truly effective population health management.
We must engage and involve patients—wherever they may be on their journey—and empower them to manage their own health effectively. In doing so, we will truly help them to thrive, and the words of David Cutler will become a thing of the past.
a. Cutler, D.M., “Why Medicine Will Be More Like Walmart,” MIT Technology Review, Sept. 30, 2013.
b. University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, “How Healthy Is Your Community?” County Health Rankings& Roadmaps, 2016.