Case Studies

Vanderbilt Care Paths: Clinical and Marketing Leaders Collaborate to Improve Population Health

by | Aug 5, 2019 | Case Studies

When marketing and medical professionals communicate, remarkable things happen. Just ask the experts at Vanderbilt Health Affiliated Network, whose internal collaboration is improving population health in Tennessee and surrounding states through the use of standardized care paths.

Pop­u­la­tion health man­age­ment strate­gies are gain­ing trac­tion all over the coun­try as hos­pi­tals and health sys­tems look for ways to improve patients’ over­all health and low­er costs. The 2018 Health­Lead­ers Media Pop­u­la­tion Health Sur­vey reports that 87% of providers say pop­u­la­tion health is a top pri­or­i­ty for their organization.

For Megan Pruce, vice pres­i­dent of strate­gic mar­ket­ing at Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty Med­ical Cen­ter (VUMC), this shift marks an impor­tant oppor­tu­ni­ty for orga­ni­za­tions to rethink the way they deliv­er and mar­ket their services.

“The mod­el we have today isn’t going to work for too much longer,” Pruce says. “We have to keep peo­ple healthy and liv­ing a high qual­i­ty of life to suc­ceed.” As part of her role, Pruce is focused on

Van­der­bilt Health Affil­i­at­ed Net­work (VHAN) and the care trans­for­ma­tion ini­tia­tives at VUMC. This trans­for­ma­tion is a strate­gic pri­or­i­ty for the orga­ni­za­tion, as it is for health sys­tems and provider orga­ni­za­tions across the coun­try. In 2012, it became a found­ing mem­ber of the VHAN, which has worked with VUMC and 13 health sys­tems, 680 hos­pi­tals, 400 prac­tices and 6,700 providers across the mid-south region to col­lab­o­rate and improve the cost and qual­i­ty of care.

Michael T. Mod­ic, MD, senior vice pres­i­dent of pop­u­la­tion health and pro­fes­sor of radi­ol­o­gy and radi­o­log­i­cal sci­ences at VUMC, also believes that the cur­rent health­care mod­el, which large­ly ties rev­enue to spe­cif­ic pro­ce­dures and treat­ments, is out­dat­ed and does lit­tle to ensure patients are liv­ing health­i­er lives.

“Tra­di­tion­al vol­ume-dri­ven health care is based on patient vis­its and ser­vices, where­as pop­u­la­tion health is real­ly designed to man­age patients over time,” Dr. Mod­ic says. “Pop­u­la­tion health ini­tia­tives focus on the entire con­tin­u­um of care rather than an iso­lat­ed event or procedure.”

Collaboration Is Critical

Both Pruce and Dr. Mod­ic believe that col­lab­o­ra­tion between physi­cians, mar­keters and orga­ni­za­tion­al lead­er­ship is vital to the suc­cess of pop­u­la­tion health man­age­ment strate­gies. As col­leagues who have col­lab­o­rat­ed across orga­ni­za­tions, they know the impor­tance of strong com­mu­ni­ca­tion and buy-in from mul­ti­ple stakeholders.

“Lead­er­ship has to dri­ve these ini­tia­tives,” Dr. Mod­ic says. “They help make the case to the rest of the orga­ni­za­tion, so they need to under­stand the mes­sage behind pop­u­la­tion health. This mes­sage has to be deliv­ered in the right fash­ion to indi­vid­ual play­ers with­in your orga­ni­za­tion, or else it may not take off.”

“Sim­i­lar to a tra­di­tion­al mar­ket­ing cam­paign, you have to tar­get mul­ti­ple audi­ences, includ­ing the providers and prac­tices deliv­er­ing the care, the employ­ers that are car­ry­ing the finan­cial bur­den, and the patients receiv­ing the care,” Pruce says. “Mar­keters are spe­cial­ly equipped to gath­er data on con­sump­tion, aware­ness, engage­ment and adop­tion, which can help us cre­ate a prod­uct or ser­vice line that the mar­ket will actu­al­ly use.”

These ser­vices should not only be clin­i­cal­ly sound, but also appeal­ing to the marketplace.

“The core skills and attrib­ut­es of mar­keters work real­ly well when try­ing to get pop­u­la­tion health ini­tia­tives off the ground, because you’re sell­ing a new idea to peo­ple both inside and out­side of your orga­ni­za­tion,” Pruce says. “A large part of it is tak­ing our tra­di­tion­al mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions strate­gies and deploy­ing them in non­tra­di­tion­al ways.”

Leading the Way with Care Paths

Mar­keters are nor­mal­ly steeped in a world of data, sta­tis­tics, iter­a­tive think­ing and adap­tive action, all of which are vital when launch­ing pop­u­la­tion health man­age­ment strate­gies, as well as when improv­ing and build­ing upon them. Dr. Mod­ic appre­ci­ates the type of think­ing that mar­keters bring to the table and is lever­ag­ing it well as a mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary team of health­care experts works to devel­op the care paths ini­tia­tive at VHAN.

“At Van­der­bilt Health, mar­keters are involved
with care paths from start to fin­ish. That
includes the strat­e­gy, con­cept and deliv­ery of
the actu­al prod­uct, as well as the design and
devel­op­ment of the cam­paign to build
aware­ness and adop­tion of it.”
— Megan Pruce, Vice Pres­i­dent of Strate­gic Mar­ket­ing
at Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty Med­ical Center

Care paths are a strat­e­gy that has been adopt­ed by a hand­ful of lead­ing health sys­tems over the past few years in an effort to stan­dard­ize the approach to care at the care­giv­er lev­el for com­mon con­di­tions like dia­betes, low back pain, ortho­pe­dics and oth­ers that see high vari­abil­i­ty in care process and outcomes.

“A crit­i­cal com­po­nent to build­ing out a care path is estab­lish­ing a cul­tur­al change with­in your orga­ni­za­tion,” Dr. Mod­ic says. “This change hap­pens when you bring a mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary team togeth­er to take evi­dence-based lit­er­a­ture and come up with a prod­uct or ser­vice line that tru­ly belongs to the team. When that hap­pens, you’re more like­ly to deploy it and employ it.”

These care paths are based on best prac­tices in man­u­fac­tur­ing and retail and pro­vide struc­ture and pro­to­col for treat­ing cer­tain con­di­tions. Care paths help reduce unnec­es­sary vari­a­tion and are embed­ded in elec­tron­ic med­ical record sys­tems. This last step helps mar­keters and physi­cians gath­er data for con­tin­u­al improvement.

“Man­u­fac­tur­ers are obsessed with qual­i­ty, safe­ty, stan­dard­iza­tion and cost, and those are the same orga­ni­za­tion­al attrib­ut­es that a health­care sys­tem should obsess about, too,” Dr. Mod­ic says. “In addi­tion to best prac­tices and stan­dard­iza­tion, one must also appre­ci­ate atti­tu­di­nal and behav­ioral aspects of patient pop­u­la­tion stratification—and that should be a sweet spot for the mar­ket­ing input.”

The iter­a­tive care path project at VHAN is cur­rent­ly in its first wave. While inter­nal col­lab­o­ra­tion is a vital com­po­nent, the orga­ni­za­tion has also relied on exter­nal col­lab­o­ra­tion to get the ini­tia­tive off the ground.

“True North Cus­tom is help­ing us devel­op the con­tent prod­uct, which con­tains peer-reviewed evi­dence and data to sup­port the care paths,” Pruce says. “From there, we can dig­i­tize the con­tent to become more inter­ac­tive and start gath­er­ing met­rics for improvement.”

“Prob­a­bly the most impor­tant aspect
of build­ing these ini­tia­tives is get­ting
the entire team to come togeth­er. That’s
physi­cians, mar­keters and lead­er­ship.
Once you under­stand, you can work togeth­er.”
— Michael T. Mod­ic, MD, Senior Vice Pres­i­dent of
Pop­u­la­tion Health and Pro­fes­sor of Radi­ol­o­gy
and Radi­o­log­i­cal Sci­ences at Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty
Med­ical Center

Look­ing into the future, the True North team is excit­ed to see how Dr. Mod­ic, Pruce and the rest of the VHAN team dri­ve adop­tion across their series of care paths and work to imple­ment patient-fac­ing edu­ca­tion resources and oth­er com­ple­men­tary strate­gies. Ide­al­ly, efforts like this will dri­ve bet­ter out­comes for patient pop­u­la­tions, improve the health­care expe­ri­ence for patients, fam­i­lies and providers, and decrease health­care costs across VHAN and oth­er sys­tems around the country.

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