Big data has been a transformative force in our everyday lives. It’s the foundation that supports innovations like mobile maps, online shopping, and music streaming. Some of these developments have been revolutionary; others, not so much. However, thanks to a combination of big data and human compassion, Population Health Management has brought us to the verge of a truly innovative period in health care.

Lowering health care costs across the board

Research on population health analysis dates back to the 1940s, but recent advances in data collection and analysis have taken the concept to a new level. Modern PHM programs aggregate data from an entire population to detect and anticipate trends and issues, while also providing a comprehensive, integrated clinical snapshot of each patient.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, implementing a PHM approach enables important “programs, policies, and interventions along the entire spectrum of health action.” That’s because health care providers can use the data to improve a wide variety of clinical outcomes while also lowering health care costs across the board.

But a successful population health care program is about more than the collection and analysis of huge amounts of data. It’s about providing real-time insights to both clinicians and administrators, allowing them to identify and address potentially harmful (and expensive) gaps in care. It’s also about providing proactive health care support, offering a helping hand when needed, and maintaining a singular focus on keeping patients healthy.

“With PHM, we’re able to divide a population into groups of people with similar health profiles, and to then provide them with a series of appropriate strategies and interventions,” says John Glaser, the Senior Vice President of Population Health at Cerner. “But what we’re really doing is continually asking ourselves what we can do to make the overall population as healthy as possible while reducing the burden on the health care system.”

Focusing on improving patient care

It was through the company’s ongoing efforts to improve the health of their own employees that Cerner, a designer of leading-edge health information technology, became involved with the PHM field.

Cerner subsequently developed a PHM  platform, independent of the Electronic Medical Record, with the distinct advantage of aggregating and normalizing disparate data, to then make it actionable. Regardless of industry, big data is nothing more than rubbish if we cannot infer knowledge and take action, which is exactly what Cerner’s PHM platform is able to accomplish. As recognized by a recent KLAS report, Population Health Management Perception 2015: Which Vendors Stand Out, Cerner’s PHM program is making the future of health care IT possible today, offering care teams holistic insight on patients. Cerner has implemented its solutions across Canada, helping tens of thousands of Canadians while saving millions of dollars for Canada’s health care system.

“There are a lot of considerations involved in implementing a successful population health management program — not just medical, but also social and behavioural, and it all has to come together,” says Glaser, who was the founding Chairman of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) and is the past-President of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). “Ultimately one of the most important factors is helping patients maintain the necessary motivation and dedication to achieve optimal results.”

With a focus on the integration of information from different health care providers and a built-in human coaching and care component, population heath management makes it easier for doctors to see the whole picture and, crucially, for patients to maintain motivation. That importance can’t be understated, as it is ultimately the will and desire of Canadians to lead healthier lives that is improving the wellbeing of individuals and communities throughout the country.