3 population health trends to watch in 2022

Telehealth, efforts to address the social determinants of health, and a focus on health disparities are likely to be among the top population health priorities this year.

COVID-19 will continue to cast its shadow over U.S. health care in 2022. But for population health, there’s that silver lining that people so often crave:
the innovations and adoption of telehealth that began in 2020 will continue into 2022, even as the peak in telehealth usage has waned. Providers and payers also continue to move “upstream” towards social determinants of health (SDH), investing in housing, transportation and other factors that affect people’s health but are outside of care. traditional health.

Another major item on the agenda of population health leaders next year is efforts to address health care disparities. Disparities in outcomes and access are deep-rooted problems that lend themselves to a population health approach, but not quick fixes.

1. Opt for telehealth!

Nearly two years after COVID-19 forced a telehealth revolution, patients have come to expect live video interaction offerings from their health plans and providers. Telehealth — which once meant having a live video visit with a doctor — has become a commodity, with hundreds of options now available to patients, says Sebastian Seiguer, JD, MBA, CEO of emocha Health, a medication adherence company in Baltimore that is a spin-off from Johns Hopkins. Simultaneously, the very definition of “telehealth” is changing, as consumers and providers become more familiar with using a variety of digital tools such as SMS, online portals and chatbots powered by artificial intelligence (AI) to provide personalized health advice and support.

Specifically, Jessica Sweeney-Platt, vice president of research and editorial strategy at athenahealth in Watertown, Massachusetts, expects virtual care to continue to evolve as it shifts from a reactive mode of managed from sick visits to proactive, practical and preventative care. This is especially true for patients working with care teams to manage chronic conditions. At the same time, wearable devices, which allow health monitoring at home, will gain popularity.

Along those lines, Nina Birnbaum, MD, medical director of innovation acceleration at Blue Shield of California, says more home monitoring is coming online with on-demand electrocardiograms, continuous blood glucose monitors, and further opportunities for people to actively engage in their health care. These tools should help doctors better determine the diagnostic workups and treatments needed, which could reduce costs.

An example of the telehealth economy occurred when the Fresno County, California Department of Public Health used emocha Health’s digital medication adherence program for a year. The department avoided about 110,000 vehicle miles while saving $10,000 in fuel and $100,000 in wages, Seiguer says.

Another group of products comes from companies looking to amplify existing home care models through technology. A company called Heal is looking to bring home visits back; Papa Health offers visits from health professionals and general home help for single seniors; and Ready offers emergency home care visits. These are just a few examples of emerging categories, with some players overlapping and others defining entirely new segments, Seiguer says.

Telehealth can also allow a hesitant or time-pressed person easy and quick access to care, helping to catch disease progression earlier and ultimately preventing small problems from becoming serious. big problems, says Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of EmblemHealth in New York, New York. Additionally, telehealth helps manage chronic disease and treatment adherence by providing people with quick and easy ways to inquire with providers.

The government is beginning to recognize the benefits of telehealth and, more broadly, care delivered remotely and digitally. In early November 2021, CMS provided reimbursement guidelines for a new category of digital health, remote therapy monitoring, which compensates providers for patient care outside of the doctor’s office. Health care providers have had no financial incentive to ensure their patients understand and take their medications completely and correctly. These new remote therapy monitoring codes provide reimbursement for the type of support that can lead to greater compliance, Seiguer says.

2. An eye on SDOH

An emerging trend in the fight against SDH is to focus more on analyzing barriers to care at the population level, and then investing in community-based programs that can have the greatest impact on the greatest number of people. Sweeney-Platt says providers and payers both have hurdles to overcome.

“While provider organizations are leading these conversations — especially those who have taken Medicare Advantage or managed Medicaid risk — they don’t always have the resources to create programs,” she observes. “Payers have also invested in these types of programs, but have struggled with low uptake. This leaves many opportunities for collaboration between payer and provider.

SDOH presents problems that cannot be solved peripherally, experts say. “Successful organizations are those that can combine sophisticated network-level analytics to identify hotspot practices with common sets of needs, with deep local knowledge of community resources and partnerships,” Sweeney-Platt observes. .

One of the biggest challenges, she adds, is figuring out who pays for these programs. Robert Bollinger, MD, MPH, professor of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and one of the inventors of emocha Health’s licensed technology, says healthcare institutions should engage in strategic partnerships with the public -private with government and non-government programs (eg, Medicaid, community/faith organizations) to address SDOH issues. He also says they need to push for more resources to support SDOH’s efforts.

3. Address disparities

There is a lot of overlap between managing SDOH and reducing health care disparity gaps. Bollinger says it’s important to remember that any population health effort to address SDOH must also consider racial discrimination — in society as a whole as well as in health care. He listed some steps that leaders of healthcare entities can take to begin to address disparities:

  • Prioritize measuring and reporting health disparities based on race and other SDOH factors within their clinics, facilities, digital programs, and among providers.
  • Build meaningful partnerships with trusted community partners – churches, local politicians – to enable patients and members to play an important role in shaping solutions to address these disparities.
  • Make racial equity a strategic priority for an entire organization. Many organizations are emphasizing and implementing training, cultural competency, or workforce diversity initiatives. But training alone is not enough. “Fairness should be more than a standing topic for every C-suite meeting, leadership meeting, and program,” Bollinger says.

Christopher Dodd, MD, chief medical officer of PopHealthCare in Franklin, Tennessee, and its home care company, Emcara Health, says Emcara deploys advanced home-based primary care teams that include culturally aligned community health workers. “This approach allows us to build trusting relationships with members of the underserved community,” says Dodd. This model, along with understanding the social and environmental factors affecting health, helps prevent serious and costly health problems before they occur, he adds.

Karen Appold is a medical writer in the Lehigh Valley area of ​​Pennsylvania.

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