Premature deaths from chronic medical conditions like cancer and heart disease have declined over the past decade. Yet, over the same period, the rate of chronic medical conditions continued to rise.

How can chronic disease rates be up and chronic disease mortality be down simultaneously? The likely answer is population health management. Payers, pharmacies and providers are helping patients manage their chronic medical conditions with innovative clinical programs that keep them as healthy as possible and in less need of more costly medical interventions.

With that in mind, here are six population health management trends that reveal opportunities to improve and maintain the positive momentum.

1. The rise in seasonal flu vaccine rates has stalled

After a steady rise since the 2009-2010 flu season, the percentage of children and adults who receive an annual flu shot has stalled and may be dropping, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 43.7 percent of children age six months to 17 years old got a flu shot during the 2009-2010 flu season, which climbed to a peak of 59.3 percent in 2014-2015. It plateaued at 59.3 percent in 2015-2016 and dropped to 37.3 percent through November 2016 during the 2016-2017 flu season. The CDC reported a similar pattern for adults age 18 or older. In 2009-2010, 40.4 percent of adults received a seasonal flu vaccine. That peaked at 43.6 percent in 2014-2015, but dropped to 41.7 percent in 2015-2016 and to 40.6 percent through November 2016.

Six Population Health Trends to Know
2. Pneumonia vaccine rates are increasing but disparities remain

Unlike the annual vaccine rates to fight the influenza virus, the vaccine rates to fight the pneumococcal virus are up. Last year, 68 percent of adults age 65 or older had gotten a pneumonia vaccine, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics. That’s a steady climb of more than 10 percentage points from 2007, when the pneumonia vaccine rate was 57.8 percent. That good news is tempered by disparities in pneumonia vaccine rates by gender. The NCHS reported a slight disparity between genders in 2016—68.2 percent for women and 67.9 percent for men.

3. More Americans are exercising but not everyone is keeping pace

Like the pneumonia vaccine trends reported by the NCHS, the agency’s figures on physical activity by adults age 18 or older also were a mix of good news and bad news. The percentage of adults who met the federal government’s physical activity guidelines for aerobic activity hit a record high of 53.5 percent last year, per data from the NCHS. That’s up from 42 percent in 2007. However, there were significant gaps by gender and age. Some 57.1 percent of men met the physical activity guidelines last year compared with 50.1 percent for women. Some 62.1 percent of adults age 18 to 24 met the guidelines last year. But that dropped to 54.9 percent for those age 25 to 64; 45.9 percent for those age 65 to 74; and 30.5 percent for those age 75 or older.

4. More payers are offering prevention and disease management benefits

Employers and health plans understand the financial benefits of keeping workers and enrollees as healthy as possible. 30 percent of employers surveyed by the National Business Group on Health cited disease or medical condition management as the most effective tactic to control their benefit costs. Additionally, one-third of employers gave employees an opportunity to complete a health risk assessment in 2016, according to a survey of employers by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Education Trust, which is up from 19 percent in 2015. Over the same period, the percentage of employers offering workers an opportunity to complete a biometric screening rose to 22 percent from 14 percent, the survey found.

5. More providers are recognizing population health management as a strategic imperative

86 percent of 537 provider executives surveyed by Numerof & Associates said population health was “very important” or “critically important” to the future success of their organization. According to its report, the consulting firm reported that the main reason for pursuing a population health strategy was to “better control of clinical costs, quality and outcomes,” cited by 78 percent of the respondents. Consequently, 74 percent of the executives said their provider organizations had a designated division, department or institute in place in 2016 that was responsible for population health programs. Further, 28 percent said they employed a vice president of population health last year compared with 24 percent in 2015.

6. Investment in population health management technologies will continue to grow

A survey of more than 6,600 provider executives by Black Book Market Research found that 84 percent are planning to acquire or replace all or part of their population health management IT systems. Additionally, 21 percent of 112 CIO members of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) surveyed by KPMG said population health technology will receive the majority of technology capital investment over the next three years. Population health technology was second only to EMR system optimization as the recipient of the majority tech capital, cited by 38 percent of the CIOs.

Collectively, the six trends reveal the need for payers, pharmacies and providers to work together to proactively manage the health of a given population.  Collaborations and partnerships will be required to sustain the decline in chronic disease mortality as the prevalence of chronic illness continues to rise.

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