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Lights, Camera, Community Heart Health

By Philip Betbeze  
   December 08, 2016

Documentary film chronicles one rural health system's journey toward a vision for population health, and its recipe is deceptively simple—but not cheap.

Building a culture of wellness through focus on specific health measurement pays off, an ongoing project in Minnesota shows. The conundrum is, who pays for it when the benefits are so disparate?

The Heart of New Ulm tells the story so far of a rural health system in Minnesota that began a 10-year project in 2008 to see if it could demonstrate the impact of targeted population strategies around heart health.

Among the results so far:

  • A 7% improvement in hypertension
  • Reduced smoking and heart attack rates
  • Improved physical activity and nutrition

Allina Health's New Ulm (MN) Medical Center and Toby Freier, its president and CEO, launched the Heart of New Ulm Project based on the premise that changing individual behavior through simple interventions can have an exponential impact on the health of a population.

The project is a collaboration of the medical center, the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, and the community of New Ulm, MN, which has a population of approximately 13,500 and is located about 90 miles southwest of Minneapolis.

Measuring ROI
The film details the project's progress in improving the health of an entire community. With modern data analytics capability, it's possible to measure the impact of such programs, Freier says, making return on investment much clearer.

He hopes the project can serve as a national model for other systems that have questions about the ROI in population health.

The documentary, which chronicles the first seven years of the journey, was created by Health Catalyst, a Salt Lake City-based data warehousing and analytics company that provides those services to New Ulm Medical Center's parent, Allina Health.

Philip Betbeze is the senior leadership editor at HealthLeaders.

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