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Patient Engagement and Population Health

December 18, 2012 | By Editorial Staff

Interview with David B. Nash, MD, MBA
Founding Dean
Jefferson School of Population Health

TH: Thank you for speaking with Transformative Health. Please give our readers some background about yourself and the Jefferson School of Population Health.

The Jefferson School of Population Health (JSPH) was established in 2008 and is one of six schools and colleges that constitute Thomas Jefferson University, a leading academic health center founded in Philadelphia in 1824 as Jefferson Medical College.

We offer four master’s degrees, in public health, health policy, health care quality and safety, and applied health economics and outcomes research. JSPH also offers a doctoral program in population health science.

Thomas Jefferson University is one of just seven health sciences universities in the country. Peer schools include the Mayo Clinic and Mount Sinai. None of these schools has a basketball team; it’s all graduate level research and scholarship.

I’ve been here 22 years, and this is my third job at the institution since 1990. We’re comprised of about 40 FTEs and a large number of incredibly talented adjuncts.

TH: In your view, why has patient engagement become so important in the transformation of health care?

If you are going to practice population-based care, it’s going to require patient engagement. It’s simply the only way to change behavior. An incredible 40 percent of all deaths in the United States are caused by obesity, alcohol, smoking and the lack of exercise.

These are all behavior-related challenges, so how can they be addressed without patient engagement? Patient engagement is the key to moving from a disease-based system, which we have today, to a truly health-based system.

TH: As you think about patient engagement playing a greater role in care delivery, how is technology supporting that change?

Let’s look at technology in major categories. The first would be the World Wide Web.

The Web is the core technology and channel. I like to describe it as representing the “mass customization of clinical information.” Take diabetes as an example. We can now customize maintenance instructions to the specific needs of teenagers, the middle-aged, the elderly, etc. Currently, less than a quarter of Americans get proper care for their diabetes, so think about the impact technology can have on 79 million Americans.

Online gaming is an effective way to support engagement, especially for younger demographics. Crowdsourcing with patients can get us feedback so much faster than before.

Social media can also be a powerful tool. Sanofi Aventis promotes intense patient engagement via their Sanofi US Diabetes Facebook Community, providing a forum for discussion regarding diabetes, sharing helpful informational resources and attracting thousands of “likes.”

One of the best global journals talking about patient engagement, SelfCare, comes out of the U.K. It’s an online publication and would not have been possible without the very low cost aggregation and distribution provided by the Web.

The same technology that has put so much power in the hands of consumers for other types of purchases has the same effect in health care. There has been a major shift due to access to information, and the medical industry must respond accordingly.

Technology arms patients with information. It’s always better in my experience to have a more educated patient, as it almost always has a positive effect on outcomes.

TH: What are some ways the industry can focus on patient activation to address population health challenges?

I’d have to say that young companies like GetWellNetwork are leading the charge to spur patient activation. Industry has to move outside the four walls of the facility, that’s a big part of the population health challenge.

Here’s another way of viewing the challenge that motivates me. It’s been reported that roughly 15 percent of a society’s quality of life is directly related to the delivery of health care. The rest of it is made up of life’s other challenges — crime, inequality and other social ills.

Our institution is training the next generation of leaders who will ensure that people are healthy enough to improve the remaining 85 percent.

2 thoughts on “Patient Engagement and Population Health”:

  1. Pingback: Community Approach Needed for “Seismic Shift” in Health CareTransformative Health

  2. Pingback: Containing Costs through Cross-Continuum Patient EngagementTransformative Health

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