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Population Health

What does Population Health Mean?

Fri, Oct 20, 2017  -  Comments (0)  -   Posted by Kirstin Craciun

Population health is a term that is used a lot in healthcare circles. While the term is growing in popularity, confusion about what it means has also been growing. Will you still be scratching your head after reading this? Maybe (good thing I didn’t go into sales). But hopefully you’ll have a little more insight into why the term has grown in popularity and how the shift to thinking about the health of populations versus individuals is causing a massive transformation of healthcare systems.

A definition proposed by David Kindig and Greg Stoddart in 2003 suggests population health is:

"The health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.”

That’s pretty straightforward, right?

The term gained greater use following the development of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Triple Aim framework. Developed in 2007, the Triple Aim has been used to define the key components necessary to optimize the performance of health systems. Population health is one of the three dimensions of the Triple Aim. The notion is that by simultaneously working to improve the health of populations, decrease the per capita cost of care and improve the patient experience of care, better healthcare outcomes will be achieved. Clearly, to address all three dimensions of the Triple Aim, many stakeholders need to be held accountable.

What does Population Health Mean?

Given the importance of holding different stakeholders accountable if we are to realize the Triple Aim, a shared understanding of population health is essential. Recognizing that different sectors define population health differently, in 2014 the Health Policy Institute of Ohio convened a group of public health and healthcare stakeholders to come to consensus about a shared understanding of population health. The result of those conversations led to this definition of population health for Ohio:

“The distribution of health outcomes across a geographically-defined group which result from the interaction between individual biology and behaviors; the social, familial, cultural, economic and physical environments that support or hinder wellbeing; and the effectiveness of the public health and healthcare systems.”

Regardless of the population health definition that resonates most with you, this moment in time in healthcare is incredibly exciting because of the shift to focusing on the health of populations rather than just individuals. Does each individual’s health matter? Yes. But are poor health outcomes often concentrated in certain geographical locations? Absolutely. We have ample evidence about how a person’s ZIP code is often more predictive of a person’s health and wellbeing than any other factor. Addressing these disparities will be essential if we are to achieve the Triple Aim and it’s going to take many stakeholders committing to working collaboratively to get there.

Locally, there has been a lot of movement to bring hospitals, public health departments and other key stakeholders together to plan for and address the health needs of all people living in our community, with a particular focus on underserved populations. I’m not sure there are enough words to describe how excited I am about this momentum, but just know that I literally did a cartwheel after a recent meeting because I was THAT energized by the conversations taking place. I’ll share more about the shift to collaborative planning in future blogs as this work takes shape.

Posted in Population Health
About the Author

Kirstin Craciun

I grew up in Canada where access to healthcare for all citizens is a core principle. I bring that thinking to the work I do as The Center for Health Affairs’ director of community outreach. I spend my days helping Northeast Ohio hospitals assess health needs in the community; develop collab...

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