We’ve all been hearing the term population health alongside news of the pandemic so what exactly is population health, and how does it differ from public health? 

First, a bit of history. The awareness of the term “population health” increased with the rise of the “Triple Aim” of healthcare, coined by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in 2007. The Triple Aim is defined as, “Improving the patient experience of care (including quality and satisfaction); improving the health of populations and reducing the per capita cost of health care.”

Although the Triple Aim sharpened the focus on ‘health of populations,’ frequently referred to as population health, it didn’t give an exact definition of which population, which has become problematic. Over time, it has morphed into the terms population health management or population medicine. Although many envision a geographic location as the foundation of a population, that isn’t necessarily the case. Clinical settings often use the term to describe patient groups, such as cancer patients. Although there is a discussion in the highest levels of health policy about semantics, when the term population health is used, it may be a good idea to clarify if it is a geographical or patient subgroup reference.

Public health is different than population health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “public health works to protect and improve the health of communities through policy recommendations, health education and outreach, and research for disease detection and injury prevention.” Therefore, the main difference between population and public health is that public health relies on official policies to drive change. In contrast, population health elicits change through all stakeholders, including providers, patients, payers, academics, and the communities themselves.

Population health makes suggestions for allocation of resources

The CDC’s 6|18 Initiative is a prime example of a population health program. Through its Medicare and Medicaid branches, it’s reaching out to partners to work together and improve beneficiaries’ health while lowering costs. It focuses on six areas of health improvement:

  • Reduce tobacco use
  • Control high blood pressure
  • Improve antibiotic use
  • Control asthma
  • Prevent unintended pregnancy
  • Prevent Type2 Diabetes

Each area of focus contains recommendations to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs. For example, to control high blood pressure, the CDC urges stakeholders to improve medication compliance with strategies such as ensuring low copayments, easy-to-read packaging, care coordination between providers, and encouraging self-monitoring with home blood pressure monitors.

Population health during COVID

There is no doubt that the pandemic will significantly affect population health initiatives. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement suggests that organizations focus on a framework of four concepts during COVID:

  1. Physical and/or Mental Health – Identify those in the population at increased risk during COVID and ensure access to appropriate care.
  2. Social and or Spiritual Well-Being – Consistently screen for social and spiritual well-being and utilize partnerships in community-based organizations to help meet patient needs.
  3. Community Health and Well-Being – Share data and work with other organizations to address caregiving strengths and weaknesses.
  4. Community of Solutions – look outside traditional roles when seeking solutions; for example, consider a community-based business to manufacture PPE rather than a conventional supplier.

When viewed through a population health lens, we can see there have been many COVID-related population health strategies already put into place. Increased access to telehealth, programs to support front-line healthcare workers, car parades for graduations, and using alternative sites for testing are examples of population health in action.

What you can contribute to population health

As a healthcare provider, participation in a population health initiative can be good business. It’s an opportunity to strengthen professional relationships as well as introduce your practice to the community. Contact your local health authority, hospital system, or community outreach center to learn more about population health initiatives in your area.

Staying on top of the latest regulations and initiatives can be challenging– using the right partner for electronic health records, practice management and billing software makes it easy. Contact us today at (412) 424-2260 or visit vowhs.com to learn how we can help optimize MIPS, streamline claims and maximize revenue.