What is Population Health? What Does it Mean For My Practice?

While there are varying definitions of population health, one thing is very clear – the overall goal is to better understand, and assess, the health of a group of individuals (“a population”). The Health Promotion and Programs Branch of Health Canada stated that “the overall goal of a population health approach is to maintain and improve the health of the entire population and to reduce inequalities in health between population groups.

Population health was defined by David Kindig and Greg Stoddart as “the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group”.

How Can You Take This Concept of Population Health and Implement It In Your Practice?

The following explanation takes the concept and defines it as an approach:

“As an approach, population health focuses on interrelated conditions and factors that influence the health of populations over the life course, identifies systematic variations in their patterns of occurrence, and applies the resulting knowledge to develop and implement policies and actions to improve the health and well being of those populations.”

As an individual practice, it’s important to understand how changes you make can directly impact the overall health of the population you’re working with.

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It’s also important to be aware that while the overall health of a population may be relatively healthy, that’s not always an accurate measure of the entire population. According to this article from the University of Wisconsin Department of Population Health Sciences, “overall health could be quite high if the majority of the population is relatively healthy – even though a minority of the population is much less healthy.”

Therefore, when considering how the health of the population fits into your practices’ overall goals and agenda, ideally, such differences in the health of the majority versus the minority of the population you’re working with would be eliminated entirely or at least greatly reduced.

The opportunities to improve the health of the population are unlimited. However, you only have so much time and so many resources. There’s always a trade off. So, the best thing you can do is invest the time upfront to research and find out which opportunity will bring the greatest reward to both your practice and the population you’re working with. In this article by Health Affairs blog, David Kindig discusses this further:

“If resources were unlimited we wouldn’t have to make investment choices, but they are limited. A critical component of population health policy has to be how the most health return can be produced from the next dollar invested, such as expanding insurance coverage or reducing smoking rates or increasing early childhood education. This is important for clinical populations as emphasized by the Triple Aim, but also for geographic populations needing resources from both public and private sectors.”

Population health is “an opportunity for health care systems, agencies, and organizations to work together in order to improve the health outcomes of the communities they serve.”

3 Tactical Steps Your Private Practice Can Take

1. If like many practices, you’re incentivized to drive healthcare costs down, while at the same time driving health care outcomes, engage with or join a local Accountable Care Organization (ACO).

2. Become a part of the referral pattern for forward-thinking organizations, such as Iora Health, MedLion, Paladina Health, Qliance, and White Glove Health.

3. The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is trying out new payment models. Your practice may want to explore some of these options.

Regardless of the varying definitions, there’s one common goal amongst them all: the improvement of the overall health of a specific population. The health of the population is “an opportunity for health care systems, agencies, and organizations to work together in order to improve the health outcomes of the communities they serve.”

At Luma, we help connect patients to health care providers and increasing access to health. Our messages are timed around appointment interactions to help increase patient engagement and drive better health outcomes. Want to know how we can help you? Reach out today!

Tashfeen Ekram, MD, is a radiologist, self-taught coder, healthcare innovator and Co-Founder of Luma Health. Contact him on Twitter at @tashfeenekramMD.

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