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What is Population Health, Anyway?

August 2016
Author: Lisa Ellis

“So, what is population health, anyway?” is a question I hear often—and the answers that follow really run the gamut. There is already a wide range of interpretations of what population health really means, and how it plays out in the real world.

My own take is that population health is all about managing the health of a population: that is, considering various outcomes (and the factors that determine those outcomes) and looking at the distribution of health among different groups. From a practical standpoint, this means that healthcare providers should be more proactive in managing their patients’ chronic conditions, learning from other patients with similar diagnoses, and heading off complications that commonly occur. It also means developing relationships with patients and including them as a member of their own care team.

Population Health Strategies 

If this sounds intriguing but you want more specifics, here are a few of my favorite examples of how population health is changing the way many healthcare organizations are doing business—and improving patient’s health and outcomes in the process:

  • Many organizations are moving care beyond hospital walls to newly built clinics located right in local neighborhoods, increasing convenience for patients.
  • They’re also designing exam rooms with patient needs in mind, such as allowing enough space for family members to be included in the visit.
  • Some clinics are configuring the space strategically to facilitate effective communication between the patient and the provider, and encouraging a team approach to making decisions. This includes designating space for patient education opportunities so people will leave empowered with the knowledge of how to manage their conditions and make healthier choices.
  • Integrating technology into the care process is also essential, making it possible to access electronic medical records right in the exam room, conference in specialists, create patient registries, and monitor high-risk patients remotely to stay on top of changes in health status.
  • Technology is connecting patients with healthcare providers right from the comfort of their home for a diagnostic visit or follow-up to help patients stay on top of chronic or serious issues.
  • Population health also encompasses the idea of creating universal home designs that can help people stay in place as they age and meet their needs as they continue to change.

An Idea That's Here to Stay 

Regardless of exactly how you define population health, we can all agree that as the healthcare field continues to evolve over the next few years, these—and many other—population health strategies will provide a seamless way to address value, quality, and outcome goals, while improving the patient experience in new and exciting ways.

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