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Knowledge Hub

Getting to grips with population health

Improving population health outcomes is one of the defining missions of new integrated care systems, but what does this mean for industry? Wilmington Healthcare’s Content Director Oli Hudson explains the significance.

As a concept, population health has a long track record in health policy. It features heavily in both the Five Year Forward View and the NHS Long Term Plan both of which describes a future built around greater investment in preventative health.

Now though, the agenda looks and feels more grounded. Integrated care systems (ICSs) are being built around the idea that a more enlightened and joined up approach to planning services can help reduce health inequalities and prevent ill health through earlier ‘up stream’ intervention.

Supporting this, there will be a big change in the way health services are incentivised: the shift away from paying for episodes of (acute) activity via the national tariff in a way that encourages competition between providers, towards a ‘blended’ contract that draws on a shared pot of money at system level, encouraging all organisations to take collective responsibility for improving the health of local populations.

Industry needs to be aware of the changing context and ready to insert itself confidently into these population health discussions. In this article, I will look at three critical steps you can take to develop your organisation’s ability to engage with the population health agenda.

1. Tackling the data challenge

Data is the fundamental building block of population health management. Indeed, its whole philosophy is built around using data analysis to understand the fundamental needs of a given population and allow resources to be directed into areas where they can have the biggest effect.

This channeling and interpretation of data to improve population-wide outcomes will inform how integrated care systems operate and what they prioritise. Data will be used to model current trends and predict future needs and their likely impact. Analysis should also help to identify local or national ‘at risk’ cohorts requiring more proactive support.

Pharmaceutical companies can offer a range of things that NHS decision-makers will find useful: from expertise in understanding conditions and patient needs, through to modelling and the segmentation of data to help systems understand and identify cohorts of patients who may benefit most from a particular intervention.

Commercial suppliers will also need to be able to use data to build a strong case for their proposition within a wider population health frame. They will need to be able to demonstrate its value relative to other types of intervention, in terms of making a sustainable, long-term contribution to patient or population outcomes.

2. Engaging on the right terms

Armed with the data, the next step is to develop your value proposition and identify who is ready to listen. Population health, though not entirely novel, is still new for many people in the NHS and there may be a spectrum of readiness to embrace it. You may need to segment your customers accordingly.

There are a few critical questions to ask yourself when making an approach:

  • Where does your value proposition or proposal fit within a service’s ambitions?
  • How can you integrate your position as an appropriate level of intervention within the service?
  • How might you align and scale your intervention to an integrated provider environment?
  • And finally, how do you connect your proposition to local, regional or national targets or objectives?

3. Embedding your solution

The final step is designing and embedding your solution within a population health context. Typical ‘added value’ interventions might include:

  • Funding and delivering training programmes to build staff knowledge and skills;
  • Co-developing public education programmes to help patients manage their own condition more effectively; or
  • Supporting measures to improve adherence to a treatment protocol, or reduce unplanned episodes of care, so that resources are used more effectively.

Population health management also demands that your product’s benefits are framed in a different way. A single budget means that systems will be under pressure to bear down on any inefficiencies, making sure interventions are delivered earlier and in the least costly way.

You will therefore need to be able to demonstrate that your proposition is not only an effective intervention but also the most appropriate within the pathway. That’s potentially a very different conversation to what has gone before.


In short, pharma has a critical window to adapt to the new environment as population health grows in importance within the NHS.

It must marshal its data and evidence base to build the economic case for its products; refine and update its value propositions so that they align with a system or locality’s strategic objectives; and develop the organisational savvy, from product development through to sales and marketing, to answer the new challenges posed by population health management.

Wilmington Healthcare can deliver bespoke training and support to help your organisation develop its population health capabilities. To find out more, click here.