This is the second of a two-part series on Population Health. This post is a reprint of a piece from the MHA@GW Blog. Click here for the original post. Reprinted with permission. MHA@GW is the online master of health administration from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University.
“Population health.” It is a term that is widely used in the health care world, but not universally understood. Some definitions of population health emphasize outcomes. Others focus on measurement. Still others emphasize accountability. So what does population health truly mean? Who is responsible? What impact does it have on our current health care environment?
In recognition that there is no uniform definition of this important and emergent concept, we sought out to create a new dialogue featuring a variety of thought leaders in the field. We reached out to over 100 health care leaders and asked them to define the term “population health.” What follows are their responses.
What We Learned
The concept of population health first came about in 2003 when David Kindig and Greg Stoddart defined it as “the health outcome of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.” While accurate, some complain this definition focuses strictly on the measurement of health outcomes without explaining or acknowledging the role that health care providers must take to impact those outcomes.
Our survey reflected that notion. Of the 37 leaders who participated, only two people directly cited Kingdig and Stoddard’s original definition. While interpretation and understanding of the phrase “population health” differed greatly in the responses we received, many did view it as an opportunity for health care systems, agencies and organizations to work together in order to improve the health outcomes of the communities they serve. Two other key trends and questions we observed include:
A question of responsibility. Do the health outcomes of a specific population rely on the behaviors of the population? The actions of the provider? Or both?
A take on Triple Aim. Several participants referenced the Triple Aim Initiative, an approach developed by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement for optimizing health system performance.
While we may not have reached a universal consensus on what “population health” means, we discovered that now is the time to think differently — not only about the definition of population health — but also about the way health care is delivered. In our ever-evolving health care environment, perhaps the “traditional way” may not be the right answer.
We welcome discussion regarding the ideas we present here and look forward to creating an ongoing, open dialogue about the role population health plays in the health care industry today.
Wayne Brackin, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President, Baptist Health South Florida
Paul Brashnyk, MPH, Interim Director of Clinic Operations, UW Neighborhood Clinics