Recently, in several smaller Health IT market segments, we’ve seen consolidation become the king of decision making. For example, many I’ve spoken with in the emergency department space feel pained that they have to “reinvent the wheel” on making ED information systems tools user-friendly.

Best-of-breed vendors largely had ED usability figured out, but as the organization replaced smaller ED vendors in favor of a hospital-wide integrated platform (such as Epic, Cerner and other hospital systems), they pulled those highly specialized tools out for something that, while it plays nicely with the rest of their IT landscape, didn’t have the finely tuned feel of their previous solution.

The story plays the same in nearly every market segment I look at—except one, that being population health management.

Recently, I had a call with a population health leader for a large hospital system that’s in the middle of a changeover on their EMR vendor. I asked her if that meant that they would drop their current population health tool to install offering from the new EMR vendor, and she told me, “It’s vitally important to have a single EMR as our core platform, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense to mush our pop health together with that yet.”

She explained that while their previous EMR vendor and their new one both have PHM offerings, they drive towards completely different outcomes. They’ll likely use both vendors’ platforms for the time being to accomplish their population health goals.

“For us, population health means targeted, impactful outcomes,” she explained. That means not only having a tool that puts registries into clinician workflows, helping them make treatment decisions, but it also involves tools that can aggregate and disseminate data to the entire organization and help make deep cultural changes.

As I’ve looked at data from our recent population health report, it seems that my VP friend’s experience isn’t a unique one. In fact, as we asked about satisfaction rates for vendors across all six areas of population health (data aggregation, data analysis, care management, financial reporting, patient engagement and clinician engagement) we found that—with rare exception—providers didn’t rely on a single vendor to satisfy all their needs.

Part of the reason for this market’s fracturing lies in the fact that population health means something different to everybody.

For some, successful population health is often defined as being successful in shared savings or VBC contracts and maintaining a high level of quality. For other organizations, it’s whether they can show that its diabetic care is improved, and that it’s done so through registries and mitigated unnecessary care. Success for these organizations simply means rolling out registries and new technology to their end users, and meeting requirements in a shared-risk contract.

For others, population health success means, “can we drive a population to a better place in terms of outcomes and value? If we set ‘do no harm’ as a data-driven goal, then success becomes infinitely more complex.”

Many who have set their sights on that goal quickly realize that multiple vendors, working in tandem, give them the best chance at successfully meeting their PHM ideals.

My VP friend went on to explain that, while consolidation is an ultimate goal of their organization, they can’t let technology drive their process.

“Technology is there to support your process, so you can’t misplace the role of technology and let [the IT tool] drive the processes; it can only be the support. However, I think IT vendors should also help shape processes—partner not just on the tool, but on the task the tool is used for—a shared vision of where population health needs to go.”

In all probability, as the market matures and vendors play the older merger and acquisition game, adding functionality along the way, population health will go the way of the EDIS. For now, it’s important for providers to own the vision and process of their population health goals and leverage strategic vendor partners to help them drive that vision.

This column first appeared on the web site of KLAS.

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