• population_health_management_careers

    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, & Stoddart, 2003).

    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.

    Population Health Analytics

    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 Health Management

    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:

    • improve the quality and efficiency of health care delivery 
    • ensure that the organization in compliant with current rules and regulations 
    • manage facility finances, create and evaluate budgets 
    • communicate information appropriately.  

    Those 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), 380-383.

    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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