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In Philadelphia, IT Will Drive Population Health Institute

May 3, 2013
by Gabriel Perna
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Temple University and the Temple University Health System (TUHS) are located in North Philadelphia, an area that TUHS vice president of health care services, Paula Stillman, M.D., says is comprised of a poor, low-literacy, multiple chronic health conditions-based patient population. Furthermore, she says, many suffer from numerous behavioral and addiction health issues as well.

In an effort to improve the health outcomes and lower the cost of care for this population, Stillman and a number of her colleagues at TUHS have created the Institute for Population Health. The institute will focus on population health at its most literal level, improving the healthcare of an area’s population. This will include patient outreach and using people in the community to directly reach the population’s high risk patients, and report to a clinical manager, who will then work to keep them healthy and engaged.

In a way, Stillman says, the center will act as a facilitator for programs that are currently in place, both in and outside of Temple. “What we’re trying to do is coordinate efforts of so many people are who are trying to do a good job for this population, and we want to put them under an umbrella where we can communicate with each other, make sure we’re not doing duplicative efforts, and expand the scope of what we do,” says Stillman, who will serve as director of the Institute.

One of the ways the Institute will attempt to do this, Stilman says, is through the use of clinical information systems. She says the use of these systems will be critical to the Institute’s success because if they can’t measure how they’ve done, they can’t tell where they’ve succeeded and where they need to do better. She says they are in the process of developing a database that will take feeds from multiple sources of information and help them monitor outcomes.

“The problem is each of the healthcare systems in Philadelphia are using different electronic medical records. We’re trying to find a single database that can accept feeds from multiple sources of information. We’ve narrowed it down, but we haven’t picked it, but we’re close to that. In the mean time, we’re collecting information on Excel spreadsheets. We’re looking for a mega database,” Stillman says.

In collaborating with other healthcare providers in the area, such as other hospitals, federally qualified health clinics, and city health clinics, TUHS is ultimately looking to create an atmosphere of better care coordination within the community. Unlike the work being done by a man she considers “an old friend, colleague, and one of the smartest people she knows ,”  David Nash, M.D., founder of the Jefferson School of Population Health at Thomas Jefferson University, also in Philadelphia, Stillman sees this population health institute as more hands-on and less theoretical.

The key to this kind collaborative effort, Stillman says, is putting the patient at the center of everything. In Philadelphia, a city that she says “is small but big,” the most important thing for healthcare providers to do is to talk and learn from each other.

“Our population goes from one hospital to another, it’s important to take care of the people regardless of where they get their care delivered,” Stillman says.