Editorial: The civic side of population health management

Successful population health management will require a lot more from the nation's healthcare leaders than merely revamping their systems' delivery models—as difficult as that will be. 

The vagueness of the term population health management is part of the problem. It conjures different images for different players in the system, each of whom is jockeying for an expanded role in the healthcare system of the future.

Social workers, nurses and the home health industry see new jobs for their specialties. Electronic health-record vendors are busy developing software programs to help providers identify and manage their most costly patients. Consulting firms are touting their expertise in big-data analytics to identify patients at risk. 

Within healthcare systems, the discussion about population health management usually centers on better care coordination. Systems are enlisting every provider in their networks—from the primary-care physicians to the post-acute nursing facilities—in the battle to limit unnecessary treatments and prevent costly readmissions. 

But this relentless focus on improving the internal operations of the healthcare delivery system, while necessary, is insufficient to hold healthcare costs in check over the long term.

The economy that emerged from the Great Recession of 2009-2011 has produced millions of jobs. But it has also produced growing income inequality and endemic job insecurity.

Young families raising children today labor under greater economic stress than previous generations. Half of older workers have inadequate retirement savings and live in constant fear of losing their jobs.

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world—over 2.2 million people, disproportionately black and Hispanic men. Keeping men in prison for minor offenses rather than in the workforce undermines the economic prospects of their communities. More than a third of the nation's kids are growing up poor in women-headed households. 

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