December 12th, 2013
In early December, the New York State Health Foundation and the New York State Department of Health cosponsored a summit focused on improving population health, with the title, “Making New York the Healthiest State: Achieving the Triple Aim.” We had hoped to convince a critical mass of health sector leaders to come together for a day to begin to understand a simple but difficult task: how can we get to be as good at keeping New Yorkers healthy as we are at getting them better after they experience significant medical problems?
We had thought this goal of getting a critical mass of participants might be difficult, given that so many people struggle with what is meant by population health (some actually think it is about birth control!), and so many people are focused these days on health care and the implementation of insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
To our surprise, within two weeks of our announcement of the conference, we had 250 people filling the allocated slots and another 300 people on a waiting list hoping to attend the meeting. It turns out that the issue of keeping people healthy has taken hold. Also, to our surprise, there were as many people who were health care providers interested in attending as there were public health leaders.
What explains the interest? The presentations at the conference brought at least two answers. First, health care providers know that they are going to benefit financially from keeping people healthy and out of hospitals as capitated payment systems become more important in medical care financing.
Second, our city and state are getting refocused on the challenge of dealing with inequities, as a new mayor in New York City has struck a popular chord in saying that we are “two cities”—one challenged by low incomes, poor education access, and substantial chronic health problems and the other enjoying an exciting, vibrant economy and culture. Leaders in public health and health care want to address these inequities; population health as a field comprises a broad set of initiatives that can help do this. These initiatives address health behaviors, the built environment that can support healthy behavior, and social determinants of health (such as access to good schools, good jobs, and viable social services).
At the end of the day, I was asked to sum up the discussions and find some themes that we could take away from a rich day of interaction among a group of engaged, smart people finding common purpose.