Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), nonprofit healthcare providers must conduct periodic assessments of community health needs and that requirement may have broad implications for the future of healthcare, according to a Hospitals & Health Networks article.
The assessments--which many public health departments already conduct during the accreditation process--create a context for increased collaboration between hospitals, public health departments and various other community health institutions, which could speed the transition to a unified healthcare system that emphasizes population health.
"I absolutely believe that the Affordable Care Act is serving as a catalyst to bring together the two sectors," Peggy Honoré, director of the Public Health System, Finance, and Quality Program in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at Health & Human Services, told H&HN. "It really has changed the dialogue because the focus of the ACA is so much on improving population health."
In the current healthcare landscape, where most diseases are chronic rather than acute, the need to improve community health drives collaboration among institutions that would ordinarily compete with one another, according to the article. For example, the Healthy Columbia Willamette Collaborative involves 15 hospitals, four public health departments and two coordinated care organizations in Oregon and Washington state. Legacy Health, one of the participants, "started with community health needs assessment requirements, but our whole mindset has changed," Legacy Director of Community Benefit Kari Stanley told H&HN. Now, she said, members emphasize preventive care and limiting the onset of chronic illnesses, with the ultimate goal of reducing the need for hospital services by improving population health overall.
Collaboration between community hospitals and other institutions is a major factor in maintaining and improving community health; in 2013, the American Hospital Association issued a guide to hospital-community organization partnerships, FierceHealthcare previously reported.
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