Examining states in the US that have the highest health ranking (as determined by the UnitedHealth Foundation’s Health Ranking study,) we can see that these states also have people who are healthier across every stage of life. For these “healthiest states,” chronic disease prevalence is lower, as well as smoking rates and obesity. 

Why is it that some states can do this very well in terms of health, and other states we see failing in their pursuit of better health outcomes?

This question was answered by Ted Wymyslo, MD Chief Medical Officer at the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers.

“Government, schools, people, employers—they are all looking at it through a different lens and in states that are improving in health measures, they are working together to have a greater collective impact in their region,” explains Dr. Wymyslo. “Those that are passive in their approach have poorer outcomes and health rankings. Others see you can positively impact and empower people’s behavior.” 

Intentional Systems to Empower Patients—And Care Teams

Hawaii, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Colorado and Minnesota are just a few states leading the way when it comes to health.

“Those that are doing well have sought out to build around the idea of community health. For instance, in the schools, they have intentionally built health not only into the academic curriculum, but changes have been integrated into the lunch menu, safe routes to school, school gardens, and other areas. It could also be workplace wellness programs, addressing good nutrition and promoting exercise…It’s things such as bike paths, or ensuring the capability of having easy access to safe playgrounds, as other examples,” Dr. Wymyslo says.

The lessons learned from the communities who have changed the lives of people living there?

“They make a conscious decision. It does not happen by accident.”

A United Community Backed by Access to Key Data

Perhaps the most valuable lesson Dr. Wymyslo points out is what we can learn from the best practices stemming from those states. “None of this is accidental. If we expect health to improve, it’s a cultural choice to make these interventions.” Whether it is primary, secondary or tertiary prevention, all “parties” affecting health need to come together, especially to avoid the complications that can occur when disease happens.

Where can a misstep occur for those communities ready to evolve?

The answer: a crucial underpinning must be in place for these relationship-driven practices, and that’s the ability to have access, and to harness meaningful data about patients on an ongoing basis. 

When primary care physicians, care teams, and other practitioners can utilize data around a patient’s health IQ, self-efficacy, current state of health and even motivation—the result is powerful. 

Being able to take such timely and robust data attached to each patient, and share that data with the others in the care continuum is where the power—or opportunity—is really unlocked, shares Dr. Wymyslo.

This data is now an influential driver that directly backs modern care delivery, helping mine, identify, better filter, and keep track of information on a daily basis. Data is used in artificial intelligence for better outcomes, rich trend analysis, actionable registries that help determine key indicators, as well as for determining the best plan for a patient based on those variables. And while most can agree how this information is what helps us track quality parameters, not to be forgotten is how this data also should help communication and continuity of care. 

“Care coordination is making sure everyone is on the same page. The primary care doctor has to ultimately be the one that is responsible for housing that information for many different uses. And that’s why we can call it the medical home—it is the home to all the information about the patient and their health,” says Dr. Wymyslo.

It is available! It is where information is ultimately managed, accumulated, and accessible…for anyone who can utilize it, and this includes the patient.”

Shaping Relationships with Patients for More Personalized Care

This change is about systematizing our health care delivery to make it more efficient, and to fully support clinicians who are managing more patients, with less time. This process and evolution means all players must come together in order to deliver care that is more comprehensive and personalized. 

“That is the real value of being able to exchange information,” Wymyslo asserts. “…We can finally all be on the same page, allowing patients and providers to make better health decisions because the total health picture is available to all the decision-makers.”