Community Hospital Strategies for Population Health

By Joshua Cowan, Brand, Marketing & Growth Strategy

With all eyes on COVID-19 and the herculean efforts and sacrifices made by our caregivers and healthcare institutions, the quickly shifting ground beneath community hospitals may have gone largely unnoticed. Pre-pandemic, many forward-thinking health systems were talking about the eventual shift away from inpatient care at community hospitals in the coming years and decades. While some still resist the notion, most would likely agree that all the ingredients are all there to create a substantial draw on volume for community hospitals. The short list includes:

  1. Increasingly advanced specialty care and rapidly rising technology costs are making it difficult for all but the largest tertiary and quaternary medical centers to keep pace with modern treatments.
  2. Physician shortages combined with narrow sub-specializations are making it difficult for communities outside major cities to retain sufficient medical staff for complex service lines.
  3. Remote monitoring tools are making it possible for physicians to keep an eye on patients without the need of a hospital setting.
  4. The highest volume surgeries have adopted advanced techniques which can be done in an outpatient setting for most patients.

These forces are combining to centralize high-level care in the largest medical centers while driving low-level care to the outpatient or even the home, leaving community hospitals stuck in the middle. Although it may be temporarily concealing the magnitude of the shift, the pandemic has intensified these trends and sped up an industry transformation by as much as ten years. Patients and physicians have adopted telehealth. Tech companies have introduced new and better tools for remote monitoring. Home-based inpatient services have been launched across the country. Patients have learned to live, at least temporarily, without some elective procedures. While some of these trends will undoubtedly abate, the proverbial cat seems to be out of the bag.

Unless they are located in an area where population growth is compensating for utilization trends, most community hospitals likely will not recover inpatient volume as it once existed. But, if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is the importance of access. Hospitals provide critical community resources and cannot be allowed to disappear or fall into decline. To thrive, most community hospitals will need to quickly stake out a new role and posture outside the walls of the inpatient setting. It is a unique opportunity to make the shift to value-based care with a focus on becoming the convener for population health. With the right information and tools, community hospitals can bring together physicians, payers, employers, local governments and other resources to engage patients and contribute to the overall physical, emotional and social health of their communities.

If you are a community hospital executive looking to deploy a population health strategy here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Physician partners are the key and driving force behind value-based care.
  2. A positive relationship with aligned payers can create a mutual benefit.
  3. Transparency and data sharing is a requirement.
  4. For sustainable results that go beyond managing utilization, engage and empower the patient with communication and actionable information.
  5. Choose a partner that can deliver and support an effective population health management platform like BRIDGE that integrates data from all parties and provide powerful insights and tools from the point of care to the palm of your hand.

Contact the population health innovators at The Garage to learn why we are different and how BRIDGE can help you achieve your value-based care goals.