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What is Population Health Management?
Population health is a common phrase—even a trendy buzzword—in healthcare circles these days. However, the healthcare industry is “experiencing a lot of confusion around the definition of population health,” according to Terri Welters, a principal at ECG Management Consultants. Historically, she says, population health “refers to taking responsibility and being accountable for the health of a defined population.”
Given this industry confusion, healthcare leaders should not assume their care teams fully understand what population health, or population health management (PHM), really means—or how what they do impacts their healthcare organization’s success. Such communication disconnects within your healthcare organization may be keeping your team from realizing the full potential of PHM.
Creating a Shared Definition of Population Health Management
A foundational element of a solid communication plan for PHM is a shared definition and understanding of what PHM means for your organization, says Welters. By developing a clear and common understanding of the model or models they’re endorsing, explains Welters, healthcare leaders can ensure “their employees are all on the same page about the important role they play in implementing their transformational strategies.”
Creating a shared definition then serves as the basis for identifying and communicating clear goals and objectives based on:
- The population health needs and priorities in a target community;
- The financial impacts of addressing these needs;
- The effects on patient (and clinician) experience of care; and
- The clinical outcome impacts of addressing these needs.
Before implementing a communication plan, healthcare organizations should determine the level of knowledge and understanding that currently exists around its PHM program and target populations. Assessing staff knowledge of roles within a care team and how each team member impacts population health is critical. These gaps in understanding become the basis for key messages established within your communication initiatives.
Leadership’s Role in Effective Communications
The leadership team drives the organization’s communication efforts by identifying target populations and establishing goals and objectives for their care. Following this process, the communication staff establishes key messages—based on the identified gaps—to ultimately increase a shared perspective of the organization’s PHM program.
Effective communication on any subject should be done through a wide range of communication channels, both traditional and digital. Those communications should also take place over time; effective communication is a process, not an event. Finally, healthcare leaders should monitor their organizations’ efforts and periodically measure them to determine if they are making progress, which efforts are most effective and where they need to make course corrections or adjustments.
While the communication staff will generally handle the creation and dissemination of key messages related to an organization’s PHM efforts, leaders have an important role to play in supporting those efforts through their own interactions with key stakeholders, both internally and externally.
The “emotional tone” of leadership messages plays an important role, too: Are the leaders fully supportive and positive about PHM? Or do they treat it like another fad to be endured? Even the best communication plans will be undone if leadership is casting a negative “emotional shadow” on PHM messages.
Alignment and consistency in messaging are both critical to avoid miscommunication and knowledge gaps. Understanding PHM requires both a macro (healthcare industry) and micro (individual healthcare organization) approach to ensuring efforts are aligned with clearly articulated goals and objectives that can be monitored, measured and demonstrably improved over time.
What strategic communication initiatives has your organization found to be successful in gaining a shared perspective of population health management?