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Population health management: What you need to know

We spoke to Paul Henderson, Director of Healthcare and Analytics at KPMG UK, to get the lowdown on population health management – what is it, what do healthcare IT managers need to know, and how will it impact UK care services?

What is population health management?

Population health management involves more than simply treating the sick in hospital, it’s about addressing the health and wellbeing needs of the population of an entire area or country. For the NHS to address demands for quality, safe and cost-effective care it must address the fundamental needs of our population – as opposed to delivering sets of services, however integrated.

An effective strategy for managing population health involves assessing the burden of actual and likely disease, and understanding the drivers of prevalence. These drivers might be social and economic, as much as they might relate to previous consumption of secondary care services as well as issues in community, social, primary and personal care settings. We have seen a rise in individuals taking responsibility for their own health and wellbeing - this is sometimes stimulated by commissioner and provider behaviour, where the NHS has recognised new ways of helping people avoid unwanted contact with care services.

What do healthcare IT managers need to know about it?

The NHS recognises the challenges associated with providing health and wellbeing services for places.  Place-based planning is one of the core tenets of the recently published NHS 5 Year Forward View, which begins by noting that people need to take more responsibility for their own health if our NHS is to be sustainable. 

Further, NHS England notes that sustainability and transformation go hand-in-hand and therefore challenges the NHS to be more digital by default. For IT managers this presents a raft of challenges that they will need to meet as a core part of their jobs.  

  • Examples of challenges include:Using “Internet of Things” thinking to link wearables-generated diagnostic data automatically and in real-time at point of care to aid decision-making
  • Big Data’ thinking that might inform the use of genomics to screen populations for issues at scale
  • Decision Science that harvests signals about people’s behaviour from multiple sources to understand what is driving it.

Their world is rapidly changing.

How will it impact UK healthcare, both NHS and private?

Population health management will drive a step-change in the way we think about, commission and provide care services. We will be more focussed around the needs of our people rather than the way our providers are organised to work. The change in thinking is already present in the 5 Year Forward view and can be practically evidenced in quality-based outcome payments and measurements, service reconfigurations leading to organisations being collectively accountable for the care they provide, and the care system redesign taking place across large geographical areas.  

It’s not only the NHS that needs to think differently.  New private sector market entrants, as well as established organisations, are taking advantage of the disruption in the UK care sector and delivering better outcomes for people. By using digital technologies to redesign organisations and jobs care management can be pushed closer to where people want to be helped, rather than where they have previously been compelled to go to consume services. 

Clearly, population health management is more than just a buzzword – it’s a new way of thinking about healthcare that puts people at the centre. There are certainly challenges for those trying to make this all a reality, but with the convergence of some key new technologies, there are definitely major changes ahead. 

At Brother, we’re always looking for ways to help healthcare providers be more effective and efficient in this increasingly fast-moving landscape. You can see how we’ve helped GP practices, pharmacies, hospitals and NHS Trusts on our healthcare case studies page.