BLOG: Population 2.0 – The Age of the Consumer

11.10.2014

By Phil Suiter, President and CEO – Aegis Health Group

Healthcare consumerism is gaining momentum with every tick of the clock.  There has never been a period in our lifetime when consumers were more empowered to make purchasing decisions regarding their healthcare.  And there has never been a time that Americans have been so challenged with taking responsibility for their own health. This trend has its genesis in the long battle American business has waged against skyrocketing healthcare costs. Now pressure from the ACA to influence a healthier workforce and non-stop media coverage on why the U.S. is fatter and sicker than ever  add to the interest in population health.

Also a major influence, the rise of cost-sharing arrangements such as high-deductible health plans to the health insurance exchanges created as a result of the ACA. This has added pressure for consumers being charged with making their own choices along the healthcare continuum.  Consumers and businesses alike are looking for answers, guidance, and support.

This is good news for payers and employers.

Population health management – the fundamental concept behind the ACA – hinges on keeping people healthy and managing and mitigating chronic conditions.  If done right, healthcare costs could hypothetically be stabilized as more consumers stay out of the hospitals.  Health systems are evolving from entities offering services only within their four walls to accountable care organizations and varying types of clinically integrated networks that manage a defined population’s health.  This reality makes them the ideal partners to create wellness programs and corresponding services, while addressing what seems like an unsolvable challenge.

Data – The Driver of Population Health

In Population Health 2.0health systems are enthusiastically engaging with consumers. They do this by creating critical partnerships with local employers and community groups to identify health risks and manage consumers’ health through ongoing, strategically planned outreach.  By collecting and tracking data about individuals with their informed consent, hospitals can proactively build relationships and develop tailored prevention & wellness services for each participant.  The reach of the internet helps facilitate this in new and dramatic ways.  According to the Pew Center for Research:

  • 60 percent of U.S. adults say they track their weight, diet or exercise routine; and 33 percent track health indicators like blood pressure, blood sugar, headaches or sleep patterns using online or mobile tools.
  • 46 percent attribute tracking to an overall change in their approach to maintaining their health
  • 34 percent say tracking has affected a decision about how to treat an illness or condition.

In the most strategic use of the Web, many progressive health systems are offering online portals that effectively engage consumers before they become “patients”. These portals are a hallmark of population health 2.0 because they go far beyond collecting only clinical information, and effectively connect with consumers who aren’t yet patients. They do this through specific engagement initiatives that support health monitoring, prevention and education programming, health risk reduction and other relevant initiatives.

Population Health Portals:  Raising the Bar

These dynamic population health portals are essentially “one-stop” health management destinations. They allow consumers to view personalized health information tailored to their health profile, concerns and interests. They can track health improvements and biometrics such as weight, cholesterol and blood glucose as well as schedule classes, workshops and health screenings. Some health systems even offer online health coaching and syncing with health devices, such as Fitbits.

Despite the inevitable tweaks that legislators will make to the mechanics of the ACA, one thing will remain constant: consumerism in health care is here to stay. It’s about uniting everyone in the common goal of good health – consumers, employers, payers, and health systems.

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