When marketing and medical professionals communicate, remarkable things happen. Just ask the experts at Vanderbilt Health Affiliated Network, whose internal collaboration is improving population health in Tennessee and surrounding states through the use of standardized care paths.
Population health management strategies are gaining traction all over the country as hospitals and health systems look for ways to improve patients’ overall health and lower costs. The 2018 HealthLeaders Media Population Health Survey reports that 87% of providers say population health is a top priority for their organization.
For Megan Pruce, vice president of strategic marketing at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), this shift marks an important opportunity for organizations to rethink the way they deliver and market their services.
“The model we have today isn’t going to work for too much longer,” Pruce says. “We have to keep people healthy and living a high quality of life to succeed.” As part of her role, Pruce is focused on Vanderbilt Health Affiliated Network (VHAN) and the care transformation initiatives at VUMC. This transformation is a strategic priority for the organization, as it is for health systems and provider organizations across the country. In 2012, it became a founding member of the VHAN, which has worked with VUMC and 13 health systems, 680 hospitals, 400 practices and 6,700 providers across the mid-south region to collaborate and improve the cost and quality of care.
Michael T. Modic, MD, senior vice president of population health and professor of radiology and radiological sciences at VUMC, also believes that the current healthcare model, which largely ties revenue to specific procedures and treatments, is outdated and does little to ensure patients are living healthier lives.
“Traditional volume-driven health care is based on patient visits and services, whereas population health is really designed to manage patients over time,” Dr. Modic says. “Population health initiatives focus on the entire continuum of care rather than an isolated event or procedure.”
Collaboration Is Critical
Both Pruce and Dr. Modic believe that collaboration between physicians, marketers and organizational leadership is vital to the success of population health management strategies. As colleagues who have collaborated across organizations, they know the importance of strong communication and buy-in from multiple stakeholders.
“Leadership has to drive these initiatives,” Dr. Modic says. “They help make the case to the rest of the organization, so they need to understand the message behind population health. This message has to be delivered in the right fashion to individual players within your organization, or else it may not take off.”
Indeed, a crucial element of adopting population health initiatives is convincing leadership that a disruptive change to their organization, while it may cause some short-term challenges, will result in greater gains for the organization down the line.
“Similar to a traditional marketing campaign, you have to target multiple audiences, including the providers and practices delivering the care, the employers that are carrying the financial burden, and the patients receiving the care,” Pruce says. “Marketers are specially equipped to gather data on consumption, awareness, engagement and adoption, which can help us create a product or service line that the market will actually use.”
These services should not only be clinically sound, but also appealing to the marketplace.
“The core skills and attributes of marketers work really well when trying to get population health initiatives off the ground, because you’re selling a new idea to people both inside and outside of your organization,” Pruce says. “A large part of it is taking our traditional marketing and communications strategies and deploying them in nontraditional ways.”
Leading the Way with Care Paths
Marketers are normally steeped in a world of data, statistics, iterative thinking and adaptive action, all of which are vital when launching population health management strategies, as well as when improving and building upon them. Dr. Modic appreciates the type of thinking that marketers bring to the table and is leveraging it well as a multidisciplinary team of healthcare experts works to develop the care paths initiative at VHAN.
"At Vanderbilt Health, marketers are involved with care paths from start to finish. That includes the strategy, concept and delivery of the actual product, as well as the design and development of the campaign to build awareness and adoption of it.”
— Megan Pruce, Vice President of Strategic Marketing at Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Care paths are a strategy that has been adopted by a handful of leading health systems over the past few years in an effort to standardize the approach to care at the caregiver level for common conditions like diabetes, low back pain, orthopedics and others that see high variability in care process and outcomes.
“A critical component to building out a care path is establishing a cultural change within your organization,” Dr. Modic says. “This change happens when you bring a multidisciplinary team together to take evidence-based literature and come up with a product or service line that truly belongs to the team. When that happens, you’re more likely to deploy it and employ it.”
These care paths are based on best practices in manufacturing and retail and provide structure and protocol for treating certain conditions. Care paths help reduce unnecessary variation and are embedded in electronic medical record systems. This last step helps marketers and physicians gather data for continual improvement.
“Manufacturers are obsessed with quality, safety, standardization and cost, and those are the same organizational attributes that a healthcare system should obsess about, too,” Dr. Modic says. “In addition to best practices and standardization, one must also appreciate attitudinal and behavioral aspects of patient population stratification—and that should be a sweet spot for the marketing input.”
The iterative care path project at VHAN is currently in its first wave. While internal collaboration is a vital component, the organization has also relied on external collaboration to get the initiative off the ground.
“True North Custom is helping us develop the content product, which contains peer-reviewed evidence and data to support the care paths,” Pruce says. “From there, we can digitize the content to become more interactive and start gathering metrics for improvement.”
Looking into the future, the True North team is excited to see how Dr. Modic, Pruce and the rest of the VHAN team drive adoption across their series of care paths and work to implement patient-facing education resources and other complementary strategies. Ideally, efforts like this will drive better outcomes for patient populations, improve the healthcare experience for patients, families and providers, and decrease healthcare costs across VHAN and other systems around the country.
"Probably the most important aspect of building these initiatives is getting the entire team to come together. That’s physicians, marketers and leadership. Once you understand, you can work together.”
— Michael T. Modic, MD, Senior Vice President of Population Health and Professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences at Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Look for more on Vanderbilt's population health management strategies in the upcoming issue of Healthcare Insight magazine, brought to you by True North Custom. If not already receiving the magazine, sign up today — free for qualified healthcare marketing professionals.