The good news is that we are hearing a lot about population health improvement from policy makers and others outside of the typical public health arena.
But why is implementing population health improvement so difficult to actually achieve? Perhaps one of the reasons for the difficulty is because it requires cooperation and collaboration among disparate players and sectors in health care and requires long-term investments in time and money for objectives that may not translate into immediate returns.
One of these investments is in the data. If we think about population health improvement as a ladder with increasingly difficult steps and an expanding group of players at each step, a strong foundation in the first rung or first step is essential. And that first step or rung needs to be system-wide data as a "source of truth" by which the other steps and interventions will be measured. And building this first rung in the form of system-wide data is a complex undertaking, fraught with many technical and political challenges.
States with Hospital Discharge Data and All-Payer Claims Databases (APCDs) have established a blueprint for this first rung on the population health ladder. These states have proven that it is possible to bring diverse cross-sector stakeholders together to hammer out solutions and approaches to complex issues related to data sharing, data exchange, and data reporting. Which is a foundational model for the climbing to the upper rungs on the population health ladder.
NAHDO and the University of New Hampshire's Institute for Health Policy and Practice, through a joint collaboration in the form of the APCD Council, are working to take state APCDs to "scale"---so that each state can have an opportunity to build an APCD to add to statewide hospital data on the first rung of the population health improvement ladder. Despite limited financial support, we are seeing great progress and are optimistic that states will benefit from a common data set as a "source of truth" for actionable information in order to improve population health and health care delivery system performance.