HIMSS15: Population health management is this year's biggest buzzword

My favorite aspects of the annual Health Information and Management System Society's annual conference, in no particular order, include reconnecting with friends and colleagues, hearing health IT success stories, eating local cuisine and cracking a smile as speakers, sponsors and attendees repeat the year's new buzzword.

Some buzzwords never die. FierceHealthIT's pre-HIMSS coverage identified cybersecurity, interoperability and innovation as key topics for this year's event in Chicago. Those were also key topics at HIMSS in 2011, the first year I went, and very likely were big topics four years earlier.

Other terms start as buzzwords at HIMSS but become tangible, meaningful initiatives over time. Analytics, decision support, patient engagement, health information exchange and even interoperability appear headed that way, in no small part thanks to increasing political and institutional will to make progress.

I saw several strong candidates for the buzzword of HIMSS15, but there was one clear winner: Population health management.

A buzzword represents a concept that vendors, pundits, thought leaders and even well-intended experts (but never, ever members of the media) deem a cure-all for new problems when, in fact, it's just a fancy way to describe something that already exists. Big data is just data; the cloud is just a server.

Population health management meets all three of those criteria: It's a concept, it's been deemed a panacea and it's just a fancy way to say "healthcare."

I found much proof of it in the HIMSS15 expo hall, where no one could walk very far without tripping over a vendor selling a population health management "solution." No single tool can solve something as complex as turning the American healthcare system on its head--and if it could, the company selling it probably wouldn't need free T-shirts, coffee, a FitBit giveaway or mid-afternoon beer to sell that product.

Despite my cynicism, which I shared on Twitter during the conference, there is hope that population health management just might stick around. Big data lets us analyze information in new ways at incredible speeds, after all, while the cloud lets us store that information for fractions of a cent of what we used to pay. Population health management likewise offers a clear value proposition.

As I wrote from HIMSS15, the Marshfield Clinic can point to a 50 percent increase in the number of patients with a blood pressure that falls within a control range. This improves overall health and reduces the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke--events that traumatize patients and cost the healthcare system a lot of money. Therefore, the oncoming shift to value-based care should force more organizations to consider population health management.

It takes a village, though. The Marshfield Clinic mentioned a laundry list of buzzwords-turned-initiatives necessary to make the hypertension management program work: Predictive analytics, risk management, care coordination, secure messaging, patient engagement, quality metrics and dashboards. Like I said, no single tool can do that.

Buzzwords aren't necessarily bad. Those that overcome the hype and pass the BS test become an acceptable (if still occasionally mocked) part of our lexicon. Those that don't simply buzz off.

I'm hopeful that population health management can stick around. When you get down to it, it's more than just a fancy way say "healthcare." It's a way to say "the type of healthcare we really ought to expect from the richest, most well educated and most technologically advanced nation in the world."

Besides, I really don't want to have to cover population health management at HIMSS19. Maybe they will be a good keynote on cybersecurity instead. - Brian (@Brian_Eastwood and @HealthPayer

Related Articles:
HIMSS15: Marshfield Clinic shares secret to population health management success
Population health relies on provider collaboration, nurse coordinators, data sharing
The key trends behind the growth of population health management

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