Garner Executive Support to Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk: A First Step Before Launching a Population Health Management Program (Step 1)

In the article “Top 10 Steps to Take Before Launching a Population Health Management Program” last November, we shared that executive support is an important first step in creating a new population health business unit for an internal employee or member-based accountability program.  Making this transition from volume to value is a paradigm shift for executives, stakeholders, and staff.  Rather than focusing on increasing revenue from increased hospital stays and reactive care, the focus changes to proactive management of a population’s health.  Change leadership is essential for success of any initiative that requires new processes, new approaches, and a new way of thinking.  Here are some change leadership actions executives should take when leading an internal population on proactive care involving healthy behavioral changes:

  1. Financially support competency building.  Instituting proactive processes to engage or incent a population to be accountable for their disease control, preventative care, and healthy lifestyles is new to most healthcare organizations.  So is putting a measurement system in place to show improvement.   This requires competencies few in the healthcare industry possess. [i]  Financial support and commitment to enable development of these competencies is essential for organizational readiness for managing risk-bearing contracts.  Executives must support the learning process and create proficiency in the new competencies by funding population health technologies, programs, and incentives even if an ROI is not clear. 
  2. Transparently communicate that employee PHI is confidential.  A leading cause of employee non-participation in programs like this is fear that the employer will have access to protected health information (PHI).  Leaders must separate Human Resources (HR) access to the aggregate claims data from knowledge of individual health status.  While employees may not ask, they must be assured that leadership has taken steps to keep employee health confidential.  This can be accomplished by creating transparent policies, procedures, reporting lines, and organizational structures around access to that data. 
  3. Champion the vision.  Shifting the vision from volume to value is a balance where the change speed depends on the environment.  The traditional volume-based processes may be needed for profitability but at the same time, small modifications to the new paradigm can begin.  By showing accountability for their own healthy lifestyles, CEOs, physicians, board members, and others make a powerful statement about the importance of it.  It’s important that all leaders complete the Health Risk Assessment and biometric screenings and participate in the incentives program offered even if they are not a population member, so they can champion the cause.  
  4. Enhance executive performance reviews.  Several organizations have included a healthy lifestyle goal within executive performance reviews, similar to service standards and overall organizational support metrics.  While some argue that industry leaders have an obligation to personal health, this takes a strong, health-focused board to address behavior that could be perceived as external to the job description.
  5. Share healthy lifestyle journeys.  Working towards the same goals as the population shows commitment to the program and sharing triumphs and struggles underscores that no one is alone on this journey.  Marketing newsletters, intranet, CEO town halls, and annual board reports are a few of the communication routes executives can use to rally the population into healthier lifestyles by example.  Some large employers even use videos with leaders discussing the importance of health in their day.

Health systems successful in population health management initiatives will be those with executives that truly believe in being accountable for one’s health.  These executives are the critical change leaders for other leaders, employer groups, patients, and other consumer populations during this paradigm shift.

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Keywords: 
population health management program, new processes, leadership actions, proactive care, healthy behavioral changes