American businesses and leadership will be hearing the term “population health” more and more as it applies both to the health of the public as a whole and as a brand strategy to solve for inequities in the workplace and marketplace. There are now population health executives at Fortune 500 companies and beyond who are responsible for managing the health care, wellness, work/life balance and other related needs of their employees and addressing similar needs in their businesses’ consumer base. Companies are learning that wellness (healthy minds, bodies and careers) among employees and customers is essential to sustained success in all part of their business, especially when it comes to shift population engagement and career advancement. But to succeed, these businesses must realize that real solutions in support of population health have to be based on the understanding that wellness and well-being – like business overall – is becoming less about the business defining the individual and more about the individual defining the business. This means we must all strengthen our intellectual capital and know-how around the distinct needs of the individuals within every population.
In health care, like so many companies, it has been the opposite: The business and its leadership – namely physicians and large organizations – have been dictating the course of health for individuals for generations. Yet this is where the real opportunity for growth lies. It’s where saving lives and generating ROI co-exist. We all will see embracing the Cultural Demographic Shift (CDS) and diversity and inclusion as a game-changing strategy for growth in health care and beyond as profit centers, not cost centers, by driving new research and revenue – if we just have the courage to work from the inside out and have the wisdom and vulnerability to both solve for who we are and what we don’t know.
For that to happen, each stakeholder in population health – hospitals, care providers, retail health care operations, food and consumer brands, food services and facilities management, community influencers, big pharma, educational institutions, nonprofits, insurance providers and payers, and beyond – must know with clarity what the cultural shift means for their organization. After all, health – just like diversity – is something that for the most part happens outside of health care facilities. Where it really takes root is within the families and communities of shift populations. Health cannot be placed in a silo off to the side of someone’s life. Neither can diversity and inclusion.
But given the urgency, even when diversity and inclusion is put at the center of a strategy for growth, we cannot underestimate the power external partnerships have to help us evolve the solve. In population health, for example, businesses must also collaborate to heighten awareness across industries and the country, which will fuel diversity of thought, help solve for the talent gap faster, and bring attention to other opportunity gaps in the delivery of health and wellness to shift populations. This shift in mindset gets back to the health care lesson for every leader in every industry: Every caregiver (not just doctors) and all organizations have the competencies to serve individual needs and that requires access to new and different resources, capabilities and intellectual know-how that has not historically existed because there hasn’t been a need for it to exist. As such, the health care industry must broaden its observations to engage with external partners in new ways to design more cohesive solutions.
In the end, just like the CDS, no one organization has all the solutions for population health. Only together can we address the urgent need to more authentically serve and build loyalty and trust with shift population communities by creating the depository of intellectual capital. Only collectively can we promote proven preventive care methods and the need to close the health care workforce development gap in culturally fluent ways. Only when this cultural fluency is achieved with brand strategies and partnerships that authentically lead, innovate and engage with today’s increasingly multicultural patients, workforce and consumers will we have the ecosystems that truly make it about the individual defining the business.
Simply put, to truly succeed, a more focused, holistic approach is required among all stakeholders committed to solving for the health, wellness and societal advancement of shift populations. For example, medical institutions need to become part of a solution ecosystem that leverages strengths and resources of external partners among retail health care, food and consumer brands, community influencers, pharma, food services and facilities management, educational institutions, and nonprofits. Historically, however, this collaboration and focus on the needs of individuals is exactly what the business templates of the past prevented them from achieving.
As population health takes off and more and more organizations and medical institutions, pharmaceutical companies, retail health care companies, and food and consumer brands all play roles in managing the overall health and wellness of those employees, an immense amount of work will be required. They all must effectively collaborate (internally and externally) to build strong intel and know-how ecosystems. This is much more than the subject matter expertise or personal brand value propositions any one business or organization can handle. To support population health, leaders must consider the strategic implications of cross-cultural intelligence and diversity of thought, along with the rapidly evolving insights and unique needs of the changing face of America’s new workforce, patients and consumers to influence the business of health both directly and indirectly.
Most of us see this playing out every day: As retail health care – CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Target – continues to play a more defining role in the delivery of health care services in the U.S. through their growth of in-store clinics, their responsibility to help solve for the widening talent gap in the health care and biomedical fields among minorities, especially Hispanics, will heighten. Those businesses must join leaders from medical institutions that predominantly serve Hispanics – as well as other multicultural communities – where there is a need to attract, develop and advance Hispanic talent to more effectively serve the unique needs of the growing Hispanic patient population.
Given the magnitude and multiple variables involved to solve for health inequities, external partnerships are critical, says Randy Martinez, director of strategic diversity management and pharmacy benefits management at CVS Health.
“The many multicultural community partners we engage with help us define our message and tailor it to the communities where we operate as a retailer,” says Martinez. “From an overall health care perspective, external partnerships are a lifeline to our customers and patients. Our partners not only help us convey the message that puts people on the path to better health, but they help fit the message to the diverse communities we serve. At the center of all these discussions at CVS and beyond is the rapid growth of the U.S. Hispanic population, which is leading the charge for changing the business of health and business as a whole. You can see this most clearly in the urgent need for more culturally competent physician care and genetic research to serve those Hispanic populations and among Hispanics themselves in the call to action to become more educated about preventive care and self-advocacy.
Yet most in the health care industry are lagging behind this key part of the cultural demographic shift, says Dr. Ricardo Martinez, former managing director at North Highland, a global management consulting firm. “When you reframe the conversation about public health and health care disparities in terms of population health,” says Martinez, “it becomes a different dialog – one about opportunities.”
Adds Fletcher Lance, national health care lead at North Highland: “There’s an emerging America coming to the forefront, and it’s surprising how many people don’t see it.”
And if you don’t see it, you can’t seize the opportunity as a strategy for growth. But that’s exactly what we are doing because we aren’t thinking holistically about where population health fits in to any growth strategy. If you have been thinking that population health and its importance to growth is limited to serving shift populations in the health care industry, you are wrong. And so was I. Not about population health as an essential health care issue but population health as just a CDS health care issue.
Population health is about the overall state of health for businesses and all our populations in leadership, the workplace and the marketplace. It is, in fact, the fourth and ultimate strategic pillar for moving people to the center of an organization’s growth strategy.
For an organization to evolve and grow, all four of these pillars must evolve simultaneously to move people from the fringe of organizational development objectives to the center of their enterprise-wide strategy. That’s when real growth/ROI happens. When they fail to evolve simultaneously, an organization will end up with shortsighted tactics and misinformed strategies that end up solving for the wrong things.
When I say this to clients, nine times out of 10 the next words are: Where are the numbers to back up thinking? Where is the quantitative argument? And what I say is: Where are the numbers to back up the opposite approach – one that leans upon playing it safe as a cost center – that you have been following for decades? We have had more and more data around the topic of “people” for years just like we have had experience for years, and where has that led us? Flawed initiatives that keep creating silos, poor employee engagement, execution mindsets, tension …
The way we’ve been doing and measuring the impact and influence of people has been flawed. We need to reinvent the entire model – in particular the role that numbers and experience play – to operationalize the innovation mentality by investing in people and moving them to the center of our growth strategies. I95