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Learning Center Experience
By Sriya Krishnamoorthy, PhD, MBA,
MPH, MSEd, School of Health Sciences
Often the terms public health
and population health are used interchangeably. But the two fields, while
interrelated, have some significant differences. As a field, public health is defined as, “…the
science of protecting and improving the health of family and communities
through the promotion of healthy lifestyles, research for disease and injury
prevention, and detection and control of infectious diseases” (CDC Foundation,
2016, para 1). In contrast, population
health is defined as, “…the health outcomes of a group of individuals,
including the distribution of such outcomes within the group” (Kindig, &
What does this really mean? You have
perhaps wondered at some point why some groups of people are healthy while
others are susceptible to certain diseases. Factorssuch as race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geography, and gender
may determine the health outcomes of populations groups. Each of these heath determinants may differ from
population to population in varying degrees, and lead to disparities or
differences in health outcomes.
While public health focuses on
behavior change and disease prevention, population health opens our view to the
myriad of factors that determine the health of populations. A primary focus of
population health management is to improve population health outcomes through
the elimination of health disparities, while improving the quality of care and
decreasing the cost of care.
One of the most intriguing population
health management initiatives in recent years has been the Patient Protection
and Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Obama in 2010. The primary
objective of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is to increase the number of
individuals with health insurance coverage in an attempt to address access
disparities and improve health outcomes, while lowering cost. By 2014, there
were major gains in health insurance coverage and the number of uninsured went
from approximately 42 million in 2013 to approximately 33 million in 2014. And,
the number of uninsured Americans will continue to improve as states adopt
Medicaid expansion initiatives and strides are made to address undocumented
residents, who are ineligible for coverage.
The most important outcome, though,
has been a decrease in the rate of health care expenditure. Health care costs
are still rising, but more slowly after the implementation of the Affordable
Care Act. We need more information before judging its worth. Thus, the primary
takeaway is that we need data and information to effectively manage population
health. Sawardekar (2015) comments that: “The efficiency of any population
health program relies on the ability of caregivers and stakeholders to leverage
population data” (para 1). Critically evaluating that patient data via
analytics tools gives us information on how to better manage population health.
Let’s look at an example of how
population health analytics can help promote population health among diabetics.
Using an analytic tool such as an enterprise
data warehouse, we can collect information on medications, labs, patient
demographics, and billing. Then, we can analyze that data to get a sense of
where the population is in terms of managing diabetes. We can ask questions
about who needs routine bloodwork and how often; who is at greatest risk for
comorbidities; which tests, procedures, or medications work better than others;
and how we can reduce waste and drive down costs.
Careers in Population
Medical health services managers and
health care administrators are at the forefront of this movement and they must
be competent in their ability to balance clinical, administrative, and
technological expertise. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016) comments that
some of the primary duties of population
health managers are to:
with a specific focus on health information technology may also need to review
patient records and work to build and maintain databases that feed into
enterprise data warehouses, in addition to quality assurance activities and
patient tracking (BLS, 2016). Better health care at lower prices for more people—that
is the goal.
Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS].
(2016). Medical records and health
information technicians. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/mobile/medical-records-and-health-information-technicians.htm.
CDC Foundation. (2016). What is public health? Retrieved from http://www.cdcfoundation.org/content/what-public-health.
Kindig, D., & Stoddart, G.
(2003). What is population health? American Journal of Public Health, 93(3),
Sawardekar, S. (2015, September 14). Population health analytics: combatting
challenges. Retrieved from http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/population-health-analytics-combatting-challenges.
Sriya Krishnamoorthy is a faculty member at Kaplan University. The views
expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent
the view of Kaplan University.
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