31st May 2024. 

We are beginning to see a shift towards population health in healthcare, which reflects a broader recognition of the connection between individual health outcomes and the social, economic, and environmental factors that shape community health.

Understanding population health 

Population health goes beyond the traditional healthcare model, which focuses primarily on diagnosing and treating individual patients. Instead, it encompasses the health outcomes of entire communities or populations. This approach acknowledges that factors such as social determinants, environmental conditions, and access to healthcare services significantly impact the health of individuals within a population. 

The importance of community wellbeing 

At the heart of population health lies the concept of community wellbeing. Community wellbeing encompasses a holistic view of health, including social, economic, and environmental dimensions. It reflects the overall quality of life experienced by individuals within a community and serves as a barometer of its health and resilience. 

Community wellbeing is not solely determined by healthcare services but is shaped by a myriad of factors, including: 

  • Social cohesion and support networks. 
  • Economic stability and opportunity. 
  • Access to education and employment. 
  • Environmental quality and safety. 
  • Affordable housing and nutritious food choices. 

Initiatives that promote community wellbeing yield a multitude of benefits. By addressing the root causes of health disparities and inequities, we can see: 

  • Improved outcomes. 
  • Reduced healthcare costs. 
  • Increased resilience to health crises and emergencies. 
  • Enhanced community engagement. 
  • Sustainable environments that support wellbeing. 

Preventative care through inclusive platforms 

Patient Engagement Portals can act as a hub for connecting individuals with resources personalised to their unique needs, and digital-first messaging serves as a cornerstone for delivering preventative care initiatives far and wide. Effective communication is key to promoting healthy behaviours and encouraging individuals to take proactive steps towards better health. To ensure accessibility for all, it is essential to offer inclusive features as part of these channels, including live translation of digital text, read-aloud options, and other tools tailored for individuals with visual impairments. This empowers patients to access vital healthcare information in their preferred language and format, regardless of language barriers or disabilities. 

Empowering access to vaccine, screening and diagnostic services  

Access to screening services is vital for the prevention and early detection of diseases. By providing timely reminders, educational resources, digitally powered vaccine campaigns, and personalised recommendations based on individual health profiles, you can empower individuals to prioritise their health and seek preventive care proactively.

Case study 1 

Recent figures have shown that nearly 4 in 10 people do not attend their breast screening appointments. At the same time, the NHS Breast Screening Programme led to cancers being detected in 20,152 women in 1 year, which highlights the importance of regular screenings to improve treatment outcomes and survival rates. When Public Health England set a requirement for breast screening reminders, Manchester University NHSFT worked with HC to create a SMS solution which included a link to their official website, giving reliable and trustworthy supporting information, and saw an impressive 4% reduction in DNAs as well as increased engagement.  

Case study 2 

A UK average of 5% of colonoscopies do not go ahead as planned due to patients forgetting to take their bowel prep or incorrectly following instructions. This leads to delays in procedures and diagnosis as well as poor patient experience when having to redo the bowel prep. Kings College Hospital NHSFT were seeing this issue in around 1,300 appointments annually, which equated to a loss of roughly £221,340 a year. Healthcare Communications (HC) worked with the trust to develop an innovate series of automated SMS with repetitive messaging and links to instructional videos which encourage accurate compliance, delivered based on the time of the patient’s appointment. Following this implementation, King’s quickly saw a 28% drop in failed colonoscopies and over 85% of patients reported that they found the messages helpful. 

Harnessing data for informed decision-making  

Data-driven decision-making lies at the core of our approach to population health. By leveraging advanced analytics and predictive modelling, you can analyse trends and patterns in healthcare data to identify areas for intervention and improvement. Patient Information Follow-Ups (PIFU) enables the NHS to track patient outcomes, monitor adherence to treatment plans, and identify gaps in care. For example, by examining demographic data and utilisation patterns, we can identify populations at higher risk for certain conditions and tailor interventions to address their specific needs.  

At Homerton University Hospital, after launching a digital PIFU pathway for endometriosis patients, staff found opportunities for research on the effectiveness of treatments and generally improved their knowledge of the condition. This pathway empowered patients to access digital questionnaires 24/7 and rapidly alert care teams about flares in their condition or worrying symptoms, and the trust also benefitted from optimised appointment scheduling to tackle capacity challenges. 

Addressing health disparities with AI  

Health inequality is often rooted in social factors, including poverty, access to care, environment and social discrimination. Healthcare Communications have recently partnered with Deep Medical, a UK company who have developed AI predictive analytics technology which can reduce missed appointments by 30%. Their exciting technology identifies DNA risks using an algorithm based on external insights such as a person’s job, childcare and carer commitments, live traffic and weather, and much more, before offering alternative bookings for patients.  

This will help to tackle health inequalities for many people, for example a new mum of a young baby who can’t get to appointments that are very early as she has to use public transport, or a patient with memory loss who needs extra reminders to ensure they don’t forget to attend. A successful pilot conducted at The Mid and South Essex NHSFT saw the number of DNAs reduce by almost a third in 6 months. This is forecast to allow 100,000-150,000 extra patients to be seen and save the trust £28 million each year. 

Driving positive outcomes for entire populations 

Prioritising population health requires a concerted effort to elevate community wellbeing as a fundamental component of healthcare. By recognising the connection between individual health and the health of communities, we can create communications and services that pave the way for a healthier future, where everyone has equal access to quality care.