Population Health Amid the Coronavirus Outbreak

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By Natalie Godwin

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, each of us has been flooded with a deluge of news sources, stump speeches via social media from friends and family, and local, national and health agency briefings. We are simply drowning in information. 

In speaking with many colleagues throughout the provider and payer healthcare community, I’ve found an overwhelming sense of helplessness to the outbreak’s onslaught. This is exacerbated by the constant evolution of reported underlying medical conditions that indicate a higher risk of hospitalization or mortality for a coronavirus patient. Undoubtedly, I am unqualified to share a complex antidote to the coronavirus, but I do want to examine a key component of many of these conversations, official briefings, stump speeches and news reports: population health. 

The Importance of Population Health

Healthcare forever changed when “Population Health” was defined by David Kindig, MD, PhD and Greg Stoddart, PhD in 2003. While the concepts of attribution, dependent variables and the spectrum of determinants were familiar to many in healthcare, this definition and the groundbreaking article gave demarcation to the health outcomes of a group of individuals, patterns of health determinants, and policies and interventions that may link the aforementioned concepts. The encompassing phrase “Population Health” is fairly new in the history of healthcare and is confusing to many individuals in the healthcare field, as well as to those individuals hearing the phrase for the first time in a news article linking coronavirus complications to overall population health. 

The health outcomes of a population (or population health) are driven by diverse factors. These include genetics, behaviors (diet, exercise, smoking), social determinants (employment, access to healthcare, availability of healthy food, poverty, where one lives) and environmental factors (occupational, water safety). Governmental agencies, healthcare providers, healthcare payers and others use these factors to assess the risk of a certain population using healthcare analytics solutions and advanced modeling. 

Once the population has been ascertained and its members evaluated, there is an opportunity to deploy population health and care management protocols. These programs may include partnering with rideshare companies for free or low-cost rides to preventative medicine or other healthcare services, deploying nutritional intervention in areas without safe or consistent access to healthy food options or providing care management services for those with, or at risk for, chronic conditions. While the sometimes-perceived invasiveness of population health—and its ability to drive change—may be debated from a social and political perspective, it is the basis of the calling for every physician and provider I know: to help people live their healthiest lives. 

This is where population health deeply impacts the coronavirus pandemic.  

Population Health and Coronavirus

People who are part of population health programs generally have one or more chronic conditions that often lead to compromised immune systems. As we know, a compromised immune system makes one more susceptible to COVID-19.

With the established definition of population health, it makes more sense why this term is central to many of the discussions and guidance from experts and leaders surrounding COVID-19:  

  • Those who live near one another? That is part of their population factors and is causing the potential for less social distancing and the rapid spread of the coronavirus. 
  • Those who have COPD, diabetes and other chronic conditions? These chronic conditions are part of the ever-increasing list of high-risk conditions causing patients to have increased case severity. 

The genetics, behaviors, social determinants and environmental factors of the population are vital to consider, analyze and manage during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. Population health programs are a lifeline to many people around the world in regular times; in extraordinary times the programs become more important. 

Understanding and acting on the population’s continuing needs is crucial to helping them weather the coronavirus pandemic. A meaningful way to maintain and even improve a population health program today is through data analytics. By actively monitoring population health program members via analytics, organizations can use telemedicine, care management, or other means to reach out with healthcare professionals, who monitor the ongoing health and wellness of participants.  

Please take care of yourself and one another during these unprecedented times.  

Natalie Godwin is director of Product Consulting, Payer and Provider Solutions at MedeAnalytics.

Additional information about population health and other COVID-19 details can be found at the following websites:

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