Population Health Management: Its Personal

A couple of weeks ago – despite the best efforts of a global pandemic – myself and the family managed to escape to the south coast of Spain.

It was a time to relax, reflect and empty one’s thoughts of anything and anyone related to work. The latter task proved just as challenging as I knew it would be.

Those who know me well will have heard me frequently talk about the importance of storytelling as part of our health analytics and data science endeavours. The world in which we operate is complex and the narrative we use to describe that world is often overly technical.

Mea culpa.

But at its heart that world is really about stories.

Back to Spain.

Whilst reclining on a beach bed one glorious sunny afternoon, I caught out of the corner of one eye the sight of three bikini clad ladies of a certain age.

I cannot be sure of course but two of the three would certainly have been in their late sixties / early seventies. The eldest had to be in her nineties.

The senior of the three was clearly extremely frail and was being escorted to the beach via wheelchair. The beach infrastructure would only support a journey of a few metres across sand and consequently at a certain point her faithful companions had to park the wheelchair and go to Plan B.

Plan B took the form of gently and very precisely lifting their companion from the wheelchair, turning her so she had her back to the sea and then gently and ever so slowly reversing her across the sand.

At this point the distance to the sea must have been all of thirty metres, yet undeterred the three amigos inched their way across baking sand to a point where they could finally enter the ocean. To paint you a picture of the task in hand, their journey must have taken twenty minutes at least. It felt longer.

At no point did the three falter and the whole endeavour was undertaken with considerable fortitude, stealth and with a huge attention to detail.

Once in the water their movements became a little easier and it was not too long before all three were happily thrashing around in waist high water. The sense of joy on each one of their faces was a scene to behold and at no point did the younger of the three lose hold of their charge. One to the front and one to the back at all times, just as they had been on their journey across the beach.

After approximately fifteen minutes of animated chat and gentle splash the three turned and exited the water joining the beach again at the same point at which they had entered. Their progress back across the sand followed the same careful process that they had deployed when entering the sea, the elder of the three being carefully chaperoned backwards to her wheelchair by way of tender but firm support at her front and to her back.

Once back in the wheelchair, her two companions pulled out two portable beach chairs, positioned themselves either side of their friend and began gently drying and grooming. Once satisfied that everything was in order, one of their number reached for a cool bag, pulled out three beers and thrust them into hands only too willing to receive them. The three then raised a loud and heartfelt toast to ……..whatever.

Those beers didn’t last long but the drinking of them was accompanied by a sense of fun and excitement that wouldn’t have been out of place in a group of eighteen-year-olds.

Now it may surprise you to learn that I am no expert on the standard uniform of those employed by the Spanish health and care system. I’m guessing not black bikinis.

I cannot be certain, but I’d wager that all three were simply close friends or perhaps family members. Whatever their relationship, what I witnessed that afternoon was caring of the highest order. Furthermore, it was caring of an intimately personalised nature.

But this was more than just care. This was love. Love for each other and love for life in general.

I had gone to Spain that week to escape work.

No chance.

I know Population Health Management when I see it.

Its personal.

N C Slone