Population Health Management as a must have, rather than a nice to have

To date Population Health Management (PHM) has been a ‘nice to have’ part of health and care planning, often seen as a high-level theoretical approach, useful perhaps for strategic ends, but not necessarily operational ones. Particularly, the focus on strategy, big data and large-scale IT systems as perceived foundations of PHM has been problematic for people who value the approach but want to make a small-scale start that can impact patients immediately.

COVID had laid bare inequalities in health systems

The unequal impact of COVID-19 across the population has meant that a way of understanding the different sub-populations in a place or system is now imperative, not merely a nice to have. It is critical that we understand the different populations that make up our health systems to ensure that we are delivering equitable care.

Attain’s approach to PHM reflects this new need. As I wrote previously (PHM requires a shift in focus – October 2019) PHM doesn’t need to be solely based on big data, it can start with a change of focus and some easy to use practical tools. For example, using one of the many publicly available population segmentation models to understand your population is a great first step to help set the direction of future health and care planning.

Segmenting your population by, for example, need and age helps understand how big the groups are and breaks system problems into smaller, more manageable chunks. But what to do with this newfound intelligence?

Baby steps – PHM linked to demand and capacity modelling

We use population segmentation like this in a number of our demand and capacity simulation models. For example:

  1. Our elective restart model uses a population segmentation approach based on prioritisation by need to ensure that elective surgery backlog is managed in the most equitable and efficient way that minimises waiting times.
  2. Our mental health demand and capacity model looks at populations split into three levels of need and three age groups (See table below) and allows us to control inputs and calculations for each, giving a much higher degree of granularity and control.

Table 1: Population segmentation model for mental health demand and capacity simulation model

Including population segments in the demand portions of our demand and capacity models is a simple way of taking first steps into the world of PHM. It means that we can ensure that capacity provision (workforce, equipment, estates etc) are reflective of the needs of all groups, to deliver a more equitable set of outcomes and gives you the confidence that you are meeting your population’s needs.

By Matt Jones