In recent years, the term population health has been creating waves in the field of healthcare, as a way to shift the focus from individual health outcomes to enhancing the health of entire populations.
In this article, we’ll dig deep into population health, its major concepts, its determinants, and why it is essential in healthcare.
What is Population Health?
In its simplest definition, population health encompasses the overall health status of a specific group of people, including the distribution of health outcomes within that group. When using large data sets for a large population, certain health disparities within smaller subgroups may go unnoticed due to averaging.
Subgroups could be a geographic population like a nation or community, or any other defined group such as employees, ethnic groups, disabled persons, prisoners, or any other.
The concept of population health goes beyond simply measuring the overall health of a population. It also studies the distribution of health within that population. For instance, while the majority of the population may have excellent health, a minority that belongs to the same group may experience much poorer health.
Therefore, population health should aim for more equitable health outcomes and reduce health disparities, rather than just focusing on overall health outcomes.
Key Concepts in Population Health
Health equity, health disparities, and social justice are all important concepts in the context of population health.
- Health Equity
Health equity is the idea that every person should have the ability to become healthy and reach their full potential without considering their social background. Having health equity means that health resources, like health programs, screenings, and education are accessible to anyone in the population.
- Health Disparities
Health disparities involve the differences in health outcomes that may exist between different populations. The differences can exist because of access to healthcare, exposure to hazards, and other social determinants. The presence of health disparities in a certain population can lead to unequal health outcomes, increased disease burden, and reduced life expectancy.
- Social Justice
Imagine living in a society where everyone is fair regardless of social status or background. That’s what the principle of social justice is. In population health, social justice is about addressing the root causes of health disparities and promoting health equity.
This can be done by fixing social determinants like poverty and discrimination and addressing environmental factors that cause harm to the people around them. Promoting access to healthcare and other health resources is also another way of imposing social justice.
Importance of Population Health
The primary objective of population health is to ensure that every subgroup receives attention and intervention to address their specific health needs.
1. Improves Health Outcomes
Population health aims to provide n extensive approach to healthcare focusing on a population’s health outcomes. This means that the process allows professionals to identify health disparities and develop effective interventions that can improve the health outcomes of an entire population.
2. Reduces Healthcare Costs
Since population health aims to provide preventative measures and early intervention, the need for expensive treatments or procedures in the future can be averted. This means people under a certain policy will be able to lower overall healthcare costs.
3. Addresses Social Determinants of Health
Since population health considers social and economic factors that affect health outcomes, the health outcomes of an entire population can be tailored to what they really need. Social determinants include income, education, and access to healthcare.
4. Promotes Health Equity
Health equity means that every person in a population has the opportunity to attain their full health potential, regardless of social status, race, gender, age, etc. This means that no one is disadvantaged from achieving excellent health and well-being just because of their background or social circumstances.
5. Improves Public Health Policies
Data and research are at the heart of population health. So, using gathered data, they can share information with the government so that public health policies and interventions can be adjusted according to the needs of the population. Tailored policies mean that the general population can have more effective and efficient use of public health resources.
Overall, population health provides a holistic approach to healthcare that takes into account the complex interplay between individual and environmental factors that affect health outcomes. This approach can lead to improved health outcomes for entire populations, and promote greater health equity and social justice.
Major Components of Population Health
Population health is a complex concept that covers different factors that can direct the course of the general health of a chosen population. Below are the major components of population health:
Health outcomes are what a person or population can expect in their health status after going through health interventions, programs, or services. Professionals measure health outcomes by studying the changes in a population’s mortality and morbidity rates, quality of life, functional status, and patient satisfaction. Some also measure disease incidence and prevalence to get a more in-depth view of a population’s health status.
For example, if a person chooses to undergo medical treatment or procedure for his ailments, the health outcomes can include pain reduction, enhanced mobility, and longer life.
Social Determinants of Health
In health, social determinants are the circumstances in which a group of people is born. It includes anything from social and economic factors to environmental factors that may affect the health outcomes of a particular population. Professionals consider the following as social determinants:
- Socioeconomic statuses
- Physical Environment
- Access to Healthcare
- Community Resources
These are part of population health since they have a major impact on a person’s health and well-being. Scoring lower in most of the determinants increases the risk for chronic diseases, shorter life expectance, and poor mental health.
Health behaviors are the common things that a person does that affect their physical and mental health. Health behaviors can either make or break a person’s health status and can affect the health outcomes of the population they belong to.
The most common positive health behaviors include:
- Regular exercise
- Eating healthy foods
- Getting enough sleep
- Practicing safe sex
- Avoiding smoking tobacco and vaping products
- Avoiding excessive alcohol intake
- Participation in preventive health services (vaccines and screenings)
On the other hand, some negative health behaviors include:
- Having a sedentary lifestyle
- Having an unhealthy diet
- Irregular sleeping patterns or lack of sleep
- Engaging in risky sexual behaviors
- Excessively smoking and drinking alcoholic products
- Not using preventive health services.
Changing negative health behaviors is one of the primary goals of population health. This can be done through health education campaigns, healthcare policy changes, and social marketing.
Healthcare delivery basically means how excellent healthcare is delivered to the general population and how accessible and affordable the services are. This also includes how effective public health programs and interventions are.
Public Healthcare Policies
The public policy encompasses the policies, laws, and regulations that impact population health, such as those related to healthcare, housing, education, and environmental protection.
Population Health and Healthcare
Population health is a vital concept in the field of healthcare since it takes a broader approach to health and wellness as opposed to traditional healthcare models. Through population health, healthcare providers can easily target health outcomes that a population needs using their determinants.
In addition, population health allows healthcare providers to understand the health needs of their patients and communities, create personalized health plans, and implement health strategies that can improve the overall health outcomes of the population.
Here are some reasons why population health and healthcare are a perfect combination:
Population health is focused on preventing diseases and promoting health and wellness, instead of looking for treatments or cures.
Through population health, the gap between different groups of people can be closed. Concepts in population health help identify and address the factors that contribute to disparities. Interventions in population health ensure that everyone in the population will have access to the health resources they need to have optimal health.
Supports Collaboration and Partnership:
Population health involves collaboration between healthcare providers, public health professionals, policymakers, and community organizations. This means that it promotes collaboration and partnerships between different groups that also advocate the goals of population health.
Emphasizes Patient-Centered Care:
Population health is focused on meeting the health needs of entire populations, but it also recognizes the importance of personalized, patient-centered care. By understanding the unique needs and circumstances of individual patients, healthcare providers can tailor their care to meet the specific needs of each person.