On the Road to Care Coordination: First Stop, Population Health Management


What does care coordination have in common with a highway? Or population health with an 18-wheeler?

Before I explain, let’s define these terms. Care coordination is the practice of deliberately organizing patient care activities and sharing information among all of the participants concerned with a patient’s care to achieve safer and more effective care, and it is applied universally across all patient populations. Population health management, on the other hand, is the practice of improving health outcomes for a particular, specific patient cohort, though sometimes this is used to refer more universally to groups of groups.

When you consider this important distinction, the highway and 18-wheeler analogy starts to make more sense. Think of specific patient populations as types of vehicles (or if you like to think of population health as the universal concept, then vehicles generally). As you notice in everyday driving, vehicles vary in size, color and overall features, in order to serve specific purposes. For example, a trucker carrying 50,000 pounds of cargo needs an 18-wheeler and not a convertible, and who wants to go to the beach in a cement truck? Now consider care coordination as the highway system upon which different types of vehicles travel. It makes no difference to the road whether a small car, a motorcycle or even an 18-wheeler is traversing its surface. Its purpose and goal is always the same: to enable movement and connectedness so that all vehicles and their drivers, regardless of type, can reach their destinations.

Moral of the story: just as we do not confuse a car with a highway, we should not confuse population health management with care coordination. While the two practices have a symbiotic relationship, they are not interchangeable, and understanding their differences is key to developing and implementing successful strategies that allow health systems to compete in today’s market.

I recently covered this topic in greater detail in a Population Health News article. Check out the full article “Navigating Population Health and Care Coordination: Points of Intersection” and learn detailed methods to successfully approach A) patient profile variances, B) health care for the “maintenance” population and C) care coordination for entire health system populations.

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