• Article
  • January 11, 2017

6 Tools for Building Teams to Improve Population Health

It's critical to understand why patients make the decisions they do and begin thinking differently about the patient care approach. But how do you train staff members and align their varied skill sets to effectively manage the health of these populations? 

Essentials in Population Health—a four-part webinar series for children's hospital leaders and teams—hosted the final installment, "Staff Competencies to Support Population Health." Here's a glimpse into that session and the move toward this emerging approach to health care.

The concept of "risk" is nothing new in health care. But as the industry adopts a population health approach, it requires reexamining all facets, including how risk is defined and managed. With that comes the challenge of ensuring health care staffs are properly trained and mobilized to support population health ideals in the most efficient ways possible.

Risk defined

Roni Christopher, D.HSc, M.Ed., OTL, PCMH-CCE, an expert in population and community health with The Jefferson College of Population Health, defines risk as the product of "vulnerabilities," which include social determinants of health as well as diagnostic data, along with the probability of threats based upon those vulnerabilities, and the associated costs resulting from the care necessary to address them.

It's here where Christopher sees opportunities for health care staffs. "The place where a total team—nurses, frontline staff, registration and physicians—can have the greatest impact is in the ‘vulnerabilities' phase," Christopher says. "This is where we want to bring influence…to really think about how to engage patients to be active participants in the care team with us."

It's critical to understand why patients make the decisions they do and begin thinking differently about the patient care approach. But how do you train staff members and align their varied skill sets to effectively manage the health of these populations? Christopher offers six key tools to help guide the process:

1. Assess current team function

Christopher recommends a tool built by the Insight Institute, which allows staff members to rate their team in 12 key competencies, including communication, organizational structure and patient experience. The findings will help leadership identify deficiencies and opportunities for improvement.

2. Use the RACI Tool

RACI is a project management tool that helps staff members identify roles for any task that falls outside typical job descriptions. The RACI tool can be adapted for patient care as well. Goals are established with the patient (or parent/guardian,) and staff members assist the patient in meeting the goals and moving toward a success plan.

This workflow chart breaks down roles like this:

R = Person(s) Responsible for completing the task
A = Person(s) Accountable for the outcome
C = Person(s) who must be Consulted as part of the workflow
I = Person(s) who must be Informed of the workflow progress

3. Know your team

Christopher says one of her favorite tools is the PDSA Personality Test. This tool helps identify the predominant personality traits of team members, split into four categories: planners, doers, studiers and actors. Understanding the strengths of each team member makes it easier to divide tasks to ensure effectiveness.  

4. Apply system-level thinking

This approach improves efficiency and allows team members to work at their highest level of licensure. It helps move the entire organization in lockstep toward population health strategies, bearing in mind that people at varying levels in the organization—from patients to frontline staff members to hospital administration—have different day-to-day priorities.

5.  Use data to help coordinate care

Proper data collection and analysis is vital to achieving population health strategies, but Christopher stresses the importance of asking the right questions along the way to ensure the correct data are gathered. Among the most critical questions to answer:

  • Why? What is the purpose of the data request, and what is hoped to be determined? 
  • What are the definitions to be used? Setting precise parameters for the data will ensure proper feedback and save time.
  • What are the time periods? Clarifying exact date ranges ensures all are on the same page regarding the data results.
  • Who is my audience? Tailor your data strategy to the intended recipients, as different levels within the organization require different types of data and layers of detail.

6. Assess parent confidence

Many institutions use parent/guardian confidence scales in various situations, but Christopher says a more widespread approach can impact larger numbers of patients while also providing valuable insight into your population. Trends emerge, and understanding those trends can help health care providers impact the health of their patients between visits.

To learn more, listen to the replay of the Staff Competencies to Support Population Health webinar or view the whitepaper. These webinars are part of the Essentials in Population Health, an educational series through CHA that explores changes under health care reform and how to operationalize a population health strategy.

Send questions or comments to magazine@childrenshospitals.org.