Data is at the center of diagnostic assessment and pediatric research. With data, pediatricians can help their patients achieve positive health outcomes, improve their practice of medicine, and even identify new and better ways to care for children. Population health software can help expand the benefits of data analytics beyond the individual patient to the entire community, leaving open opportunities for pediatricians to make data-driven decisions on how they practice, the services they provide, and the opportunities available to answer their own community’s needs – and their own.
The Role of Data Analytics in Population Health
According to the Harvard Business School, data analytics is the use of data to make informed decisions on future outcomes, and it is a fantastic tool for pediatricians. In fact, pediatricians may use analytics more often than they realize: from infant growth charts to planning for retirement or ordering vaccines, data analytics can help identify trends, save time and money, and reduce uncertainty for office managers and managing physicians.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers plenty of support for the use of population health for individuals and for pediatricians as a professional body. Some pediatricians advocate for the use of population health as a tool to segment patients into categories, making care more efficient by assigning resources based on each category’s needs. This 2017 paper in Pediatrics makes a case for population health as a primary tool for improving the care of children from a whole-child health perspective, including their circumstances in utero, which could prevent maternally transmitted diseases like HIV. The paper also examines the potential for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) to affect population health.
On a larger scale, population health also supports the AAP’s and other organizations’ missions to improve care for children via policy changes. Population health data is integral to making lasting systemic changes that can benefit whole communities, such as access to pediatricians and pediatric specialists, access to mental healthcare, support for academic success, and much more.
Identifying Population Health Opportunities in Pediatric Practice
When looking at population health, it makes sense to determine the opportunities that will have the most benefit for an individual community. One way to find these opportunities is to view data on some of the most important and common pediatric healthcare services: vaccines.
Using data analytics tools, which range from independent software tools to those integrated in your EHR, pediatricians can identify vaccine rates.
The PCC Dashboard tool allows physicians to study vaccine rates by age range and by vaccine, making it easier to determine opportunities for population-wide vaccination goals. You can even view comparisons between vaccine rates for your practice and other practices in your region.
Other population health trends you might like to review are:
- ADHD follow up visits
- Obesity and nutrition visit rates
- Behavioral health
- Asthma care
- Well care visits by age ranges
Studying the data behind these and many other kinds of visits can help practices explore their communities’ needs and come to innovative solutions.
For example, a pediatrician at "We Treat Kids Pediatrics" notices a significant drop in ADHD follow up visits for all patients with the diagnosis. This is consistent across demographics, so the pediatrician decides to survey her families. She finds that in her community, the pharmacies that accept the most common insurance for prescribed medications are at least a 30 minute drive away. Using population health data, the pediatrician is able to pinpoint an obstacle for her patients and plan steps to help families access medications more readily.
Screenings: the Community Health Powerhouse
Next to vaccinations, screenings are perhaps the most powerful tool for population health for independent pediatricians. For pediatricians practicing in the field in busy communities, services like screenings help improve community health outcomes on a large scale. Here are a few screenings to consider that can greatly affect patient outcomes in communities:
Vision screenings are an essential part of childrens’ healthcare, and community-wide screenings help ensure that all children have access to the vision care that enables them to learn, socialize, and interact with their environment.
With population health data, pediatricians can determine that they are meeting the recommended frequency of vision checks and take steps to ensure this vital service is extended to their community.
Behavioral and mental health screenings can help families address the visible and the invisible symptoms of diagnoses like depression and anxiety. Behavioral and mental health diagnoses can be significant for improving academic performance, physical health, and the patient’s well-being.
A practice could also include maternal depression screenings in their population health considerations, as caregivers with depression are known to affect kids’ sense of security, attachment, and mental health outcomes.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
Trauma-informed care can help pediatricians treating individual families who have experienced ACEs and/or trauma, but it’s also helpful for population health. With a trauma-informed approach, pediatricians can enact community-wide measures for supporting families dealing with current or generational traumas. Check out our previous post to learn more about trauma-informed care (TIC) in pediatrics.
Screenings and vaccines are two of the most powerful tools for improving population health in every community. This is just the beginning: pediatricians can dial down to get to know the opportunities unique to their community with population health data.
Want to know where to start with population health data? While your EHR vendor can have great tools for data analytics, don’t forget to use your state’s resources for health data to help inform your practice’s approach to things like food insecurity, access to health resources, and more. The CDC also has data by U.S. state available via the National Center for Health Statistics.
Treating communities can seem more difficult than treating an individual patient, but the outcomes are real, from improved vaccination rates to fewer hospital stays. You might be wondering: what should I do now that I know my community needs access to specialists or behavioral healthcare? PCC’s ebook, Integrating Behavioral Health: A Guide to Expanding Access is a great place to begin. A pediatric practice can close gaps to care by innovative collaboration with specialists – no matter your budget.