Population Health: A Community Approach

William Gillespie, MD William Gillespie, MD
EVP, Population Health and Chief Medical Officer

There are evolutions and revolutions taking place all the time in healthcare. New techniques. New therapeutics. New insights. In many cases, these new techniques and insights build on an already well-established foundation. A new technique is applied on top of an existing approach or a new therapeutic is introduced in place of another or in a place where one did not exist. The healthcare team may not have to rethink the fundamentals. They build on the fundamentals with which they are already familiar and move forward.

Yet there are other evolutions taking place within healthcare demanding changes at a fundamental level. Dr. Tobias C. Samo and I recently co-authored a paper, Population Health Predictions You Can’t Afford to Miss, in which we predicted an increasing numbers of practitioners will be migrating to a physician-led group practice model as a way to manage population health more effectively and to deliver greater value to the health care consumer.

In that paper, we cited the evidence we were seeing at places like Christiana Care Health System, where care managers work closely with physicians, pharmacists, social workers and others in a team-based approach to helping patients with ischemic heart disease. The community-based team works together well, despite the fact that few of those healthcare professionals work in the same location. In order to be successful in managing a population’s health we see teams like this evolving in many institutions today. One of the challenges of the community-based team is to help team members learn how to work well with their peers—indeed, to value and respect the other members of your team as peers, even if they’re not in your specialty.

For that reason, I was quite intrigued to read about plans taking shape at a new medical school to be opened by New Jersey’s Seton Hall University and Hackensack University Health Network. While the top of article that ran on NJSpotlight extolled the benefits that the new school would bring to the region, the latter half of the article was even more exciting for me as an observer of healthcare trends. “Team approach to education, training,” read the subhead. And there it was in black and white: Seton Hall and Hackensack University Health Network are focusing from day one on emphasizing an interdisciplinary, team approach to care.

“When [students] are educated (as a team), they understand each other’s specialty and proficiency, and when they are out in the community and treating patients, they know how to use their partners in a more effective and efficient way,” leading to benefits for patients and a more efficient healthcare system, said Mary E. O’Dowd, New Jersey State Health Commissioner.

Indeed! That’s an exciting evolution, one I expect we’ll see occurring in more and more medical schools around the country.

What about where you are? Are you seeing this shift in focus in other schools? In other settings? What efforts at team-building are you seeing where you are, and how are the challenges being overcome? Share your story with us.

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