In my first blog in this mini-series regarding the provider perspective on population health, I detailed how my experience as a primary care physician combined with my healthcare informatics knowledge and experience has given me a rather unique perspective on population health management.

I understand the value of population health initiatives for provider organizations and patients alike, and discussed why it's so important for my fellow physicians to be on board with the industry's shift toward this goal. However, for many physicians, population health solutions still need to cross a perceived credibility gap before they are fully adopted.

Primary care physicians have been coordinating their patients' care all along, tracking their medications, specialist visits, and health histories. However, recently there has been a parade of new technologies thrown at us to support care coordination. Yet as we wade through these new 'solutions', we realize that they are not always effective. For instance – take electronic medical records (EMR). Though most of us now agree that it was worth the effort to transition from paper records to electronic, not everyone felt that way from the beginning (or in some cases, still do not feel that way). In addition, health information exchanges—while having major benefits such as enabling better transitions of care and providing access to complete information about our patients whenever and wherever needed—still had to cross a fairly wide credibility gap to be fully embraced by providers.

Population health is the latest trend. I genuinely believe that sophisticated knowledge of our population's health will make us all better doctors by taking care quality to the next level. Population health will enable us to more accurately target patients likely to benefit from medical interventions, and this will be especially valuable in the new world of value-based payments. Effective population health solutions help all providers to practice at the top of our license, ensuring that we see the patients that are the most appropriate for our particular skill set – saving time and money on all accounts. However, population health technology vendors and program leaders need to keep in mind how these initiatives will play out at the point-of-care. With extensive experience in this field, I would like to share some advice for software vendors on what to do, as well as what not to do, when it comes to population health IT.

Software vendors need to be thinking through how all of the aggregated data will be received, viewed, and utilized. Remember that we are already close to being overwhelmed with data and sometimes struggle to make sense of all the available data. Technology can, and needs to, help us be much more selective about finding the relevant, high quality information we need to spend our time focusing on.

As providers, we are trained to fit a lot of care delivery into very short appointments – new technology must make that task easier, more efficient and help us to deliver better care outcomes or it will not be used. By bringing data together from a range of disparate sources, technology allows us to look at all the interactions that have happened to a patient across the continuum of care and find trends that are otherwise hard to discern when in the middle of a busy day. We can use the technology to create rich supporting data for referrals and help generate a longitudinal multi-source patient record that allows a doctor who has never seen a patient before still to deliver the best care possible.

Many IT initiatives in the population health vein, such as utilization management programs of the past, did not take into account that as physicians we are already very knowledgeable in patient care and more than capable of making the right decisions for our patients. By attempting to “second guess” our decisions they tended to operate at cross purposes and were not well received by clinicians or patients.

Another well-described problem with our use of health information technology is alert fatigue. If the technology provides frequent low value alerts, we are understandably likely to ignore them. So lesson number one is: population health solutions, like any other system, need to add real value by offering selective high quality information that can be used to help our care of patients. If the technology can achieve that it will have our enthusiastic support. When population health solutions support the triple aim – improving cost, quality (and safety) of care and the patient experience –they will truly see the success they deserve.