The federal government is pushing the health care system, and physicians in particular, to move to an outcome-based payment system, but they can’t succeed alone. Real success will hinge upon how quickly our country can embrace and support Population Health. We must realize that the dollars we spend today on prevention, nutrition, early childhood development and safe and trauma-free neighborhoods will save dollars tomorrow and lead to stronger cities and more productive and healthier citizens.
This is a difficult theory to merge neatly into our multi-payer health care system, where the entity that pays for the prevention today most likely will not be the same payer that benefits from the investment +25 years from now. But plenty of evidence shows that investing in Population Health works. So it’s up to us to figure out how to create the policies, programs and strategies that connect the dollars and incentives.
An editorial editor recently asked me why our country outspends other nations in health care spending while our health outcomes lag behind. For all the money we are spending, we are not living healthier lives or living longer. We see poorer results on several key health outcomes, such as life expectancy and the prevalence of chronic conditions.
The answers are two fold — we pay a lot more than other countries for the care we receive and we invest less, on average, on the community services and programs that support healthy living. Americans, for a number of reasons, often seek what turns out to be the most expensive venue for care: the hospital emergency department instead of primary care, or the ICU instead of hospice at home. We need to make the less expensive option — usually just as good if not better — the convenient and preferred option. We also need to support the expansion of high value health care when appropriate, such as using telemedicine, or obtaining basic preventive and primary care from talented nurses and physician assistants.
But I believe the best way to reduce costs is to promote healthier lives — supporting Population Health. The Quality Institute has embraced this perspective for more than ten years, with the formation of our Mayors Wellness Campaign and, more recently, our Conversations of a Lifetime. These types of initiatives can be replicated and expanded for the betterment of all New Jerseyans.
My thoughts connect with the Take Five in this same issue by New Jersey Health Commissioner Cathleen Bennett, who understands that promoting good health means promoting everything from pathways for people to walk to helping corner markets in “food deserts” provide fresh fruit and vegetables to local residents. The commissioner created the Office of Population Health specifically because she understands that improving health requires changing the environment around us — not just the medical system.
Please read Commissioner Bennett’s exclusive interview with us and share your thoughts on how to tie our payment system to Population Health.