Popping the question: what
is population health?

“What is population health anyway?” That was the lead-in question posed at the POLITICO Outside, In thought leadership event, “Is Population Health Popping?” During the opening moments of the event, it became evident that population health takes on new meaning depending on your point of view. For example, the health system CEO has a different perspective compared to the innovator trying to discover technology solutions. And to the physician or public health official, population health takes on an even more different meaning based on how best to care for patients in their communities. However, the ensuing discussion did confirm the premise: population health management is key to improving healthcare quality, driving better outcomes for patients, and lowering costs.


I was reminded over the course of the discussion that health means more than just healthcare. Behavior and genetics are major determinants of overall health at 37 percent and 25 percent, respectively. But socio-economic factors also affect overall wellbeing from diet to family support to a person’s ability to afford or understand new technologies and what zip code a patient lives in. For this reason, population health programs must be viewed as part of a broader support network, connecting patients with care and their communities. In other words, for the systemic changes we endeavor to make to be successful, population health management requires the marriage of technology and patient data and engagement.


Our challenge is threefold. First, design the right technologies that will collect data, including information beyond health records, such as environment and education. Second, weave these technologies together in a manner that aggregates and analyzes the data to help inform the right care delivery at the right time, and predict future health needs. Third, persuade patients to be more involved in their own health, overcoming the episodic nature of healthcare delivery systems. The result is individualized treatment based on the whole patient, accounting for the unique factors in their daily lives that contribute to their wellbeing.


Panelist Dr. Joseph Wright, Chairman of Pediatrics at Howard University, translated population health into an old parable. When a man discovered a neighbor drowning in a river, he jumped in to save him. When the man saw another person drowning in the same river, he turned and walked away. Instead of jumping into the river again, the man headed upstream to stop others before they fell in the river – he went to the source of the problem to find a solution. Dr. Wright, an emergency physician by training, is conditioned to seeing people in an acute episodic care setting who often look to him as primary care. He considers how we can reach patients earlier to help them avoid an emergency room trip in the first place.

Nick Padula

By Nick Padula,

Vice President,

Home Monitoring and

Population Health Management,

Philips North America

Transforming traditional mindsets

Traditional care delivery models and mindsets must transform if effective population health management initiatives are going to succeed. For healthcare providers, we have learned that effective programs deliver actionable analytics by bringing clinical, financial and operational data together across the healthcare enterprise, whether it’s a mega health system, a rural hospital, or a physician’s office. When we add patient data to the equation through monitoring, management programs, and connected devices, we create an ecosystem that enables better decision making about care and allows for providers to engage patients in a meaningful way.


Philips brings comprehensive solutions that help health systems and organizations identify patients with chronic conditions and varying levels of risk, and engage them to better manage their care. Identifying patients when their data may exist in multiple systems, each providing an incomplete record, requires a truly interoperable solution like Philips Wellcentive. Philips Wellcentive has experience in bringing together all of that data to create holistic patient records, which can be analyzed to identify the highest risk patients. Telehealth programs play an important role in connecting these high-risk patients with prompt care coordination in the home allowing providers to track populations of patients and identifying those most in need of immediate intervention. A recent study Philips conducted in partnership with Banner Health, one of the largest nonprofit health systems in the country, demonstrated the value to both patients and providers of this approach. In addition to appreciating the swift intervention from the comfort of their own home, participants experienced roughly half the number of hospitalizations and reduced 30-day readmissions by 75%.1


Real solutions in practice

The transition to population health management cannot come soon enough. Today, the U.S. spends more than $3 trillion a year on healthcare. People over 65, many who suffer from chronic conditions, represent 12 percent of the population but consume roughly 44 percent of those dollars. By 2030, the senior population will balloon to 20 percent. The proportional healthcare cost increases we can expect in the years ahead will simply be unsustainable without the kind of change that population health management can bring to the challenge of providing quality, individualized care at a lower cost.


Connected ecosystems of wearables and smart devices can help to keep seniors and those with chronic conditions healthier and more independent for longer by addressing key health issues such as falls and medication management. With older Americans treated in the ER for a fall every 11 seconds, the use of medical alert solutions can speed intervention and reduce the number of falls that result in a hospital visit. To increase the likelihood of detecting falls, the Philips Lifeline service includes automatic fall detection, alerting loved ones and providers when behavior deviates from the norm, so they can take appropriate action.


Medication errors are responsible for harming about 1.5 million patients each year. Additionally, poor adherence to medication regimens is a major issue when caring for seniors and is responsible for $100 billion per year in hospital admissions.2 The ability to manage medications at home plays a key role in deciding whether a senior can continue to age in place. Medication management systems facilitate independent living by automating the pill dispensing process, prompting seniors to correctly dispense medication, and alerting caregivers about missed doses, required refills and errors.

75% of 30-day hospital readmissions were reduced by telehealth programs in a recent study by Philips in partnership with Banner Health.”

The transition to population health management cannot come soon enough. Today, the U.S. spends more than $3 trillion a year on health care.”

Population health starts at home

At Philips, we believe population health management can make a significant difference in individual patient care by “intervening upstream.” We see health systems around the country just starting to shift away from traditional care models rooted in the fee-for-service reimbursement system, and embracing technology-driven, value-based solutions that leverage data analytics to support a preventive, proactive approach to healthcare delivery.


Connecting and engaging patients through technology to participate in a system of seamless care and wellbeing is at the core of this transformation. By monitoring and managing the quality of care delivered, proactively and between care episodes, providers and care delivery organizations can ensure that the promise of population health management is fulfilled.



2 Bosworth, H., Granger, B., Mendys, P., et al., “Medication Adherence: A call for action,” PMC, 163 no. 3, (2011): 412-424.

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