Something has finally clicked in my understanding of population health management and big data: They're connected, or will be soon.

As a result of the connection, hospital executives who ignore big data analysis as a fad or something that is "not for us," likely will be late to a party in which everyone is invited and attendance eventually will be mandatory.

To big data experts, this is no revelation, but to the thousands of health care executives just stepping into the population health management pool, it may be news.

The industry's transition into using population health management, ACOs, and other forms of performance-linked care is creating plenty of challenges for hospital industry executives as it is without having to worry about the nebulous-sounding big data.

But it was a presentation on population health at the ACHE Congress — one of several on the subject — that helped me get on board with this line of thinking. It was at another 7 a.m. session at which executives from UCLA Faculty Practice Group and Medical Group and Bon Secours Richmond Health System described their respective forays in population health management. One of the highlights of UCLA's presentation by Samuel Skootsky, M.D., was a video that was produced to explain ACOs to the public.

Meanwhile, Peter Bernard, CEO of Bon Secours Richmond, talked about how the system's health care costs fell by $7 million over two years by putting its self-insured employees in an ACO.

Just think how much they could have saved if they knew more about which employees were most at risk for severe or chronic diseases or which physicians were best at treating certain diseases, information that in theory could be available through the analysis of big data. I'm probably missing other big advantages.

But for now, Bernard noted in an interview that data collection and other challenges remain regarding the implementation of an ACO, which the system is aiming to roll out to the general public.