Home Health How Nurses Manage Population Health and Support a Healthier Nation

How Nurses Manage Population Health and Support a Healthier Nation

by Lois Earles
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The healthcare needs of US citizens are in a state of change. Although people are living longer than ever before, they are doing so with chronic conditions, like heart disease, asthma, and diabetes. These long-term issues can compromise their ability to live independently, participate in the workforce, or survive the effects of pandemics, such as COVID-19.

Population health management strategies now aim to reduce the prevalence of these conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these are the leading causes of death and disability in America, as well as the driving force behind healthcare costs. The overarching goal is to improve the physical and mental health of the nation, as well as reducing costs and tackling health inequalities which are a barrier to good care for many.

Nursing is a key role in society, and it takes education and training to get there, and to get to this level of positive influence in society. Nurses are also a requirement of modern society, helping to support the nation in many ways, and the demand is increasing.

Universities, like the University of Indianapolis, are aiming to fulfil this need by creating a series of online programs to cater for people who want to change careers. In the Uindy accelerated nursing program, graduates in other fields can study online, complete clinical placements at local facilities, and qualify in just 15 months. The course is flexible and reasonably priced, but financial aid packages will also be available to many online students.

Excellent healthcare is not enough

In the past, policy decisions on the provision of healthcare have focused on facilities and individual care, without considering the foundations of a healthy lifestyle. Good childhood development, mental wellbeing, and a nutritious diet are some of the foundations on which a healthy life can be established. Once lifestyle policies are in place, the aims must be reinforced at every stage of a person’s life.

Personal choice will, of course, impact the health of each individual, from what they eat to how much exercise they do, for example. Nevertheless, with focused support from nurses in the form of education and preventative care, they can be encouraged to make better choices.

A successful economy starts with good population health

According to a study by McKinsey & Company, investing in the nation’s health will foster a more prosperous economy. People being unable to work because of poor health, additional days off sick, and caring responsibilities at home can all impact business and the overall economy. Good health, on the other hand, drives productivity, lowers healthcare costs, and enhances the supply of labor.

At a state and local level, when elected officials, healthcare providers, and clinicians have a better understanding of the population’s health needs, they can accurately predict what resources are needed and effectively commission services.

Finding global health solutions through better population health management

On a global scale, a deeper understanding and monitoring of population health can lead to greater readiness for tackling new health challenges and pandemics. Lessons learned at a local or national level can help nations to develop solutions globally. Greater knowledge of public health can also promote disease prevention in populations around the world and support better clinical care.

In doing so, population health management gives the medical and scientific community the chance to manage viruses, like COVID-19, and prevent them from escalating.

Why do nurses have an important role in this process?

Since the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the role of nurses in population health has increased. This transformative law moved the focus of healthcare systems from patient-specific, on-demand care, to managing the health of large groups and preventative care. By considering the health of the population and attempting to manage it more effectively, the act also strives to improve the quality and lower the costs of healthcare for all.

Population health management, over the long term, can help lower instances of preventable diseases through challenging the social determinants of health, such as income, education, employment, and access to care, that preserve health inequalities. While researchers note the “roots of this inequity are deep and complex,” nurses can tackle the problem as professional, experienced, and influential patient advocates.

In 2017, the Catalyst for Change report also spoke of a pressing need to “harness the power” of nurses for setting the stage for better population health. In US hospitals, schools, businesses, and communities, nurses connect practice with education and research, to manage the rollout of population health policies.

Improving the health of the nation

From advocating for patients to sharing their knowledge and working collaboratively, nurses have been historically trained to promote better patient health. However, they now also have more insight thanks to integrated care practices and greater support from the government when carrying out their work.

This has empowered professionals on the frontline of healthcare to take a proactive approach to supporting the population through promoting healthier lifestyles. It is a rewarding role which appeals to many people who want to make a difference in the world.

How do nurses manage population health?

Nurses are taking on ever more important roles in the leadership of organizations and the operation of programs that are designed to boost the nation’s health. In a range of patient-facing roles, they assess the needs of individuals, support the principles of equitable healthcare, and confidently work independently. Nurses will also use their knowledge of population health to promote community wellbeing goals through screenings and vaccination programs.

Furthermore, they will also collaborate with other healthcare professionals to design and deliver new services that target segments of the population and reduce disparities.

Improving the population’s wellbeing

In hospitals, schools, and many other settings, the basic role of nurses is to assess the health of their patients, formulate an evidence-based diagnosis, and deliver the appropriate care plan in a timely manner. They will work in collaboration with a physician where necessary to ensure a patient receives the right medication and their symptoms are fully investigated through further testing if necessary. Furthermore, they are instrumental in monitoring the condition of patients and responding to changes in their condition in a considered but swift manner.

Improving patient experiences in healthcare

Aside from providing better outcomes for patients, there are clinical and financial reasons for enhancing an individual’s experience of healthcare that contribute to managing population health. Patients who have a positive experience are more likely to have better self-management skills, follow medical advice, and, as a result, have better health outcomes overall.

By understanding and monitoring patient experience, nurses can also learn more about fundamental problems with the local care system, such as issues with communication or delayed test results. Faster recovery times are also associated with lower costs for healthcare providers.

When patients have a good experience with their care provider, medical malpractice suits are less frequent. Moreover, efforts to improve patient experience often benefit the medical team as well, and this leads to enhanced employee satisfaction and higher retention rates. Altogether, this can have a notable impact on the overall population health of a local area.

Reducing the costs of healthcare and boosting productivity

A reactive approach to population health leaves healthcare services unable to plan effectively for future needs. However, by taking a proactive stance, nurses can build a more productive, cost-effective system. In part, this is achieved by nurses recording, storing, and analyzing data on public health using AI tools. The results can be used to inform decision-making around the provision of care, the treatment of certain diseases, and spotting at-risk segments of the population.

Educating patients and the wider public can also reduce costs for the healthcare system. Through community outreach work, nurses inform people about available services and make these services more accessible. Besides giving patients more knowledge about their condition, nurses help them prepare for self-management. When patients can deal with their condition at home, they are less likely to be readmitted to hospital. In turn, this lowers healthcare costs and reduces waiting lists, so more people can access the care they need.

In their collaborations with non-profits, other health professionals, and government agencies, nurses develop ideas for educating entire communities. Their efforts are aimed at helping people avoid long-term illnesses, or sustaining injuries, and ultimately live a healthier life.

Principally, nurses educate patients about general health and wellness to make them aware of lifestyle risks. Nurses cannot compel a patient to make changes, but if people know that weight loss and giving up smoking is better for their long-term health, they may be more likely to act. Moreover, patients who are better informed may raise awareness among their family and friends, which will help to spread the message further.

Addressing inequalities in healthcare

Nurses are often the first point of contact for patients in the community and get to know people from all areas of society. They also spend time at the bedside of hospital patients and speak with families, to offer support at difficult times. This means nurses are well-placed to manage health inequalities, which involves improving access to care and services for vulnerable or marginalized people. For example, they may work alongside community groups or non-profits to arrange events, translation services, or transport to and from a clinic.

Mental illness is a significant public health issue in the US, but nurses can offer assistance and education in this area of patient care too. Along with giving patients advice and practical help with tackling symptoms, such as sleep problems and depression, nurses can signpost local services and refer patients who need substantial help.

For those who can manage their condition with a greater degree of independence, nurses can point them toward support groups that are right for them, based on their age, ethnicity, or background. This advocating ensures patients are more likely to access care and persevere with their treatment. In the longer term, their mental health outcomes may improve.

Building a more engaged workforce

In leadership positions, nurses play a crucial role in the engagement and motivation of their colleagues. This nurtures a workforce for great job satisfaction, lower staff turnover, and better patient care, as the team performs optimally. In turn, patients are more satisfied with their care, they recover faster, and the facility costs are reduced; all factors that promote excellent population health.

Nurse leaders are good communicators, using their skills to understand more about individual team members. This gives them access to a nurse’s full range of talents and experiences. By understanding more about the team’s strengths and weaknesses, leaders can prevent common errors to keep patients safe. Feedback can fulfill a similar function, as it allows people to speak honestly about their work and seek help with any areas of practice they wish to improve.

Part of feedback involves collecting input and gaining insight from the experiences of nurses who work bedside. Leaders can gather this information and evaluate it to provide training, optimize workflow, and improve daily operations.

Nurses remain at the forefront of population health strategies

In their daily work and through continued professional development, nurses are assisting government groups and other medical professionals to improve the health of the nation. Their efforts highlight and remedy areas of weakness in the healthcare system, as well as improve life expectancy and slow the pace of chronic diseases for the health of the entire population.

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