Population health management: Survey finds too many hospitals drag their feet

The healthcare industry at large agrees that improved population health management is vital to the future of healthcare, but a new survey from Numerof & Associates shows hospitals have a lot more to accomplish in this area.

Researchers polled more than 300 healthcare executives and interviewed 100 major healthcare decision-makers about their progress in transitioning to value-based care models. They found a common thread of respondents "still just testing the waters," according to the survey.

"We expect the push to value will only continue to accelerate, while the 'wait and see' approach that many organizations have adopted is highly risky," Rita Numerof, Ph.D., president of the firm, said in an announcement about the findings.

More than half of respondents said they considered population health "critically important" to the organization's future. However, most respondents whose organization was part of an arrangement with payers featuring downside risk or upside gain said no more than 20 percent of the organization's revenue flowed through these agreements.

While fewer than 20 percent of respondents in shared risk contracts said the agreements account for more than 40 percent of revenue, nearly half expect such arrangements to constitute that percentage within two years. Two of three respondents said their cost-variation management capabilities at the physician level were "average" or worse.

Historical animus between payers and providers is also a stumbling block for the cooperation necessary for meaningful population health management, the survey found. Less than 60 percent of respondents said payers were more than "somewhat willing" to commit to agreements with them.

Responses varied by region as well, with New England providers ahead of the curve when it came to progress on agreements. Meanwhile, only 43 percent of respondents based in the South said their organizations were part of an agreement that could lead to upside gain and downside risk.

Historically, hospitals have struggled with population health due to ambiguity about what the term even means, and the survey results reflect this confusion. Numerous respondents said multiple definitions were used within a single organization.

"Managing change requires objective assessment of where the organization currently stands, what gaps need to be addressed, and what actions are needed to close them," the report states. "Ultimately, organizations that go down the path to population health will be building capacity to effectively manage under a new healthcare paradigm. The responses to our survey are clear: the time to act is now."

To learn more:
- download the survey (.pdf)
- here's the announcement about the findings