Population health and the future of veteran health care

By Judith Johnson-Mekota / Health Care Column

On June 6, the VA implemented the MISSION Act of 2018 and launched some of the largest changes in health care delivery by the Department of Veterans Affairs in recent memory.

The Iowa City VA has been preparing for this change for some time and one critical part of the preparation for the MISSION Act was a deep dive into population health.

One key change from the MISSION Act implementation was a restructuring of how VA engages with our community partners through care in the community. To be truly effective at building these partnerships and providing fully integrated care to veteran patients, VA had to understand the nature of our patient population. Several factors are evident in our catchment area, such as rurality and age, but VA is interested in more of the population health factors that define our patients.

At the Iowa City VA, the role of the population health team is to improve the health of all veterans by generating and supporting collaboration where non-clinical determinants of health are used with measures of health and health care. Population health is the practice of determining the health and health needs of a population by measuring and reporting factors that may influence an individual’s health.

These factors may include:

  • Social
  • Economic
  • Personal behaviors
  • Environmental
  • Health care
  • Biological

At the Iowa City VA, the population health team performs the mission of reporting on the health and needs of the veterans in Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois. To accomplish this mission the group measures, monitors and identifies trends that impact the health of veterans in a particular region.

In this way, patterns can be found that help the group to turn numbers into knowledge that can guide veterans, their health care providers and the Iowa City VA toward more informed and effective health care for each veteran.

As these population health products are developed and shared across the health care system with a wide range of customers and providing data and information that can be used locally and nationally, the true power of the MISSION Act can be realized.  The power that comes with community partners, health care providers, researchers, and VA working together to make health care delivery in our area that is the absolute best in the nation.

Judith Johnson-Mekota is the director of the Iowa City VA Health Care System.