Data Analytics Drive Population Health Management Design, Success

Monday, October 1st, 2012
This post was written by Patricia Donovan

data analytics

HRA's don't tell the whole story of population health.

Even though most companies spend an average of $10,000 per employee on healthcare costs, two-thirds don’t measure specific outcomes from health promotion programs, notes Patricia Curran, principal in Buck Consultants’ National Clinical Practice. Data analytics can help to close this disconnect, suggests Ms. Curran, who shared these findings during a recent webinar on Population Health Management: Achieving Results in a Value-Based Healthcare System.

How should companies measure ROI from health improvement efforts? By gathering population-specific data and relevant costs before launching a population health management (PHM) program and setting specific goals, she advises.

“Identify what’s important to you that’s going to show that your program is successful; whether it’s a decrease in healthcare or trend, decrease in healthcare cost, improved productivity, absenteeism. Determine four or five areas where you’re going to look for successful outcomes. And then set up your program so that you’re collecting the data that’s going to tell you whether those things are happening.”

Robust data analytics are the main underpinning of a successful PHM effort, Ms. Curran noted. In laying out a blueprint for PHM, she defined population health management as the management, integration and measurement of all health programs offered by an organization — a set of interventions aimed across the health continuum, from the healthiest employees or health plan members to those with catastrophic illnesses.

There are six types of data analysis that should form the PHM foundation, Ms. Curran said. These range from clinical data (e.g. biometrics or aggregate health risk assessment, or HRA data) to humanistic data, which encompasses satisfaction with the PHM program. Companies shouldn’t base an entire PHM program on HRA data, she cautioned; this data is self-reported and doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story.

Instead, companies should analyze data to identify the ‘at risk’ population, which is about 20 to 25 percent of the population that accounts for about 20 to 40 percent of the cost, Ms. Curran recommends. “These folks are not getting preventive care. They’re obese, they smoke, and they have other healthcare risks.”

Once the PHM program is designed, how should companies motivate the participants? That answer will be different for each company, she says. “Figure out what motivates the population: is it plan design, wellness incentives, or purchasing incentives?” For example, the raffling of a pair of tickets to a NASCAR® event, which proved a popular incentive at a trucking company, might not motivate a different population.

Similarly, tailored to the appropriate population, technology such as dashboards and smartphone apps adds a ‘fun factor’ to programs, she says, and can boost PHM success.

Also motivating is the creation of a culture of health in which management supports and participates in the PHM effort — one that employs robust communications and tools that not only help individuals to control their health, but also clarify cost (such as comparison tools and calculators).

Incentives still play a role in health and wellness improvement, but that role is changing, notes Ms. Curran. On the horizon, more rewards for the healthy, for such things as completion of preventive care. The social and behavioral issues of a population come into play in the design of incentives, she notes. These can include such elements as a supportive network, be they colleagues or management, and a focus on loss avoidance. “How badly does the individual want the incentive?”

Returning to the all-important factor of program ROI, Curran suggested that there are other areas to look at besides cost to determine the success of a PHM program. “Reduced cost is an important one, but it’s not the only metric. Other things may be increased efficiency, improved health status, outcomes and compliance, improved lifestyle behaviors, participation, changed opinions and interest, reduced turnover and improved company morale.”

“Programs for activities’ sake alone can’t and should not be sustained,” she cautioned.

More advice from Ms. Curran on population health management is available in this audio interview.

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