Much attention is paid to both population health management and health IT efforts within health reform dialogue. Both are discussed as resources supporting quality improvement initiatives foundational to the legislation. But furthermore, there could be potential, in the mid- to long-term, for these initiatives to enhance one another. While there are, of course, legal and administrative barriers (e.g., patient privacy concerns) to implementation of a scalable, centralized health information exchange, there is also a business case to consider, and population health management can play a role within it.

Providers across the U.S. are currently implementing electronic health record (EHR) systems and processes to comply with meaningful use standards for data exchange. The hope of the initiative driving this is improved coordination of care through facilitated health information sharing. While this widespread adoption of electronic data systems may be a step in that direction, there will still be many hurdles to overcome in achieving wide-scale interoperability that is truly secure and automated.

While this data sharing issue may not be foremost in health plans’ strategic decision-making, there is perhaps potential for value in aligning with and supporting facilitated health information exchange. Part of this value is in streamlining coordination of care between practitioners and health management programs.

On the population health management side, access to electronic health information for approved parties could lead to enhancements in coaching. It could help coaches identify gaps in care more quickly and effectively capitalize on teachable moments for participant self-care.

For the practitioner, improved communication with population health management can lead to facilitated coordination of care that minimizes process changes and cuts out extra work. As doctors grapple with the adoption of new systems, processes and a wide pool of newly insured patients, surely they can benefit from the support of care initiatives that provide information to enhance patients’ overall care.

So in addition to the cost savings outcomes traditionally driving the business case for health management programs, health plans may see value in these programs as a way to support their network operating under an outcomes-based model.

While initiatives such as the Direct Project are working on universal standards for information sharing, interoperability on this scale could take some time and effort. Is it worth it? Will the advancement of electronic health information sharing succeed in supporting quality improvement, and does population health management fit into the picture? Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts.