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What is Population Health?

Posted By MHA@GW Staff, Thursday, June 11, 2015

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.

Population Health Graph_V3_2

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.

What’s Next

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.

Population Health Word Cloud_V2

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.

Participants

  1. Wayne Brackin, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President, Baptist Health South Florida
  2. Paul Brashnyk, MPH, Interim Director of Clinic Operations, UW Neighborhood Clinics
  3. Fred L. Brown, LFACHE, Chairman, Fred L. Brown & Associates, LLC
  4. Brian Churchill, Director of Clinical Content and Decision Support, PeaceHealth
  5. Todd M. Cohen, Director, AtSite Inc.
  6. Dr. Kenneth Cohn, CEO, Healthcare Collaboration
  7. Dr. Dennis R. Delisle, Director of Operations and Support, Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals
  8. Gigi DeSouki, MHA, Founder/CEO, Wellness On Wheels, Inc.
  9. Jack Friedman, CEO, Providence Health Plan
  10. Richard J. Gilfillan, MD, President and CEO, Trinity Health
  11. Jim Goes, Managing Partner, Cybernos LLC
  12. David Harlow, Principal (Attorney & Consultant), The Harlow Group LLC
  13. Jay Henry, Chairman & CEO, The James Marshall Group
  14. Dr. Patrick Herson, President, Fairview Medical Group
  15. Jay Higgins, Senior Director of Network Strategy and Surgical Program Development, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
  16. Ryan Jensen, CEO, The Memorial Hospital of Salem County
  17. Tammie Jones, Senior Health Policy Officer, US Army Office of The Surgeon General
  18. Dr. Christy Harris Lemak, Professor and Chair, the Health Services Administration Department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham
  19. Dr. Stephen Martin, Executive Director, Association for Community Health Improvement
  20. Dr. Larry Mullins, President and CEO, Samaritan Health Services
  21. Roy J. Orr, Director of Business Development and Supply Chain Services, Salem Health
  22. Joseph Paduda, Principal, Health Strategy Associates
  23. Bonnie Panlasigui, Chief Administrative Officer, Alameda Hospital
  24. David C. Pate, MD, JD, President and CEO, St. Luke’s Health System
  25. Janet Porter, Principal, Stroudwater Associates
  26. Barry Ronan, President & CEO, Western Maryland Health System
  27. David Rubenstein, FACHE, Clinical Associate Professor, Texas State University
  28. Kathryn Ruscitto, CEO, St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center
  29. Marie Savard, MD, Managing Director of Health Care Practice, Diversified Search
  30. Dr. Nancy Seifert, Instructor, Oregon State University
  31. Dr. Peter Slavin, President, Massachusetts General Hospital
  32. Mari K. Stout, MHSA, Quality Improvement/Provider Engagement Specialist, ATRIO Health Plans
  33. Amy Stowers, CEO, OptimizeIT Consulting
  34. Quint Studer, Founder, Studer Group
  35. Bahaa Wanly, Administrator, UW Medicine
  36. Jennifer Weiss Wilkerson, Vice President, MedStar Health
  37. Dr. Stephanie Works, Senior Medical Director, Providence Medical Group

 

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