HEALTH TECH AUSTIN: Population Health & Why It Matters

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This week, Health Tech Austin held its fourth event focused on “Population Health and Why You Should Care” at downtown’s Capital Factory on August 17.

With Jayne Nussbaum, executive director of Dell Medical School’s Department of Population Health moderating, multiple experts – including George Terrazas, president of Texas Care Alliance; Christie Garbe, VP and chief strategy officer at Central Health; and Steve Steffensen, M.D., chief of Learning Health System at Dell Medical School – weighed in on population health and how doctors and patients should be jointly accountable for the overall wellness of the community.

Population health in central Texas continues to be an escalating issue, with 200,000 people uninsured in Travis County alone. The panelists dissected population health at its core, examining its myriad definitions and strategies to avoid chronic diseases way before a doctor visit is ever warranted.

“Population health is about shifting the mindset on how we deliver care,” said Steffensen. “With pop health, you have to look at the entire ecosystem of health, you have to ask doctors to look beyond the four walls of their institution.”

The experts boiled improving population health down to three major areas: health reform, cost crisis and big data.

 

Health Reform: “Partnerships are essential. Collaborations and collective impact is what will get us [there].” – Christie Garbe

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From left to right: Jayne Nussbaum, Steve Steffensen, Christie Garbe, George Terrazas

All panelists agreed that patients need to be connected to resources beyond the traditional healthcare network. As Steffensen put it, “the system is 20 percent health and 80 percent everything else.” In other words, disease care is a small component of health delivery. Focusing on the outside factors of health – what people eat, how people exercise, sleeping patterns, etc. – all play a major role in the overall health of the individual.

Collaboration and policy are key players in the population health sector, and policy changes on how doctors approach diseases is a first step in the right direction. “I should be looking at your grocery receipts, not just your glucose levels,” said Steffensen, a practicing physician.

Connecting people with resources beyond care is a hurdle itself, which is where collaborations come into play. In the same way pharmacies are offering free services such as blood pressure screenings while waiting for a prescription, the next step may be finding other ways to engage in a holistic approach such as taking the conversation to places where people already go regularly – like grocery stores or hair salons. Talking about health in an informal setting may offer better results for the community as a whole.

Cost Crisis: “Texas has the highest rate of uninsured people in the nation. When people don’t have insurance they put things off and end up in avoidable situations.” – Christie Garbe

With rising healthcare costs, many forgo the trip to a primary care provider for an easily treatable issue that, if left unchecked, can turn into a major problem later. “Healthcare costs have gone up 5.3 percent in the past year alone,” said Terrazas. “It is not sustainable and we have to find ways to reduce costs.”

Approximately 30 to 40 percent of healthcare costs are determined to be wasted. From still using paper over an electronic record system, to prescribing brand name drugs over generics, costs remain high. “We’ve been analyzing claims data on how we’re treating our own employees,” said Terrazas. “Even if we can increase generic utilization by 1 percent, it can result in 3 percent savings on overall claims expenditures.”

Big Data: “It doesn’t need to be complex. We look at this data, but sometimes we forget that there are real people behind the numbers.” – George Terrazas

While big data has been a buzzword just like population health, and almost every medtech vendor is selling some type of population health tool, all three panelists see the potential of actively seeking more data about the people they are serving as a solution to the issues facing the community.

“With the right data at hand, we’re able to focus on high-risk patients and those populations to give them the care they need before they get into an emergency situation,” said Terrazas.

 

In closing, all three panelists agreed that the focus on health should be based on quality and outcomes, rather than fee for service. Health Tech Austin is dedicated to educating members of the health and tech community and facilitating opportunities to collaborate and find solutions to improve the health and vitality of central Texas.

Health Tech Austin’s next event on Sept. 8 will shift to the venture capital realm, where participants can “Ask a VC” in this Shark Tank-inspired session.

Leverage PR is privileged to partner with Health Tech Austin to raise awareness of the organization and its commitment to being a resource for emerging health and medtech companies. To learn more about Health Tech Austin or to become a volunteer or partner, visit www.healthtechaustin.com.