A Discussion on the Various Definitions of Population Health

The term “population health” has been used for a long time and continues to be used commonly in North America. Even though the concept of population health is popular there is no exact agreed upon definition of it. One of the most famous and influential contributions to population management is Evans, Barer, and Marmor’s Why Are Some People Healthy and Others Not? The idea that population health is a field of study or a research approach focused on determinants seems to have evolved from this work. The Determinants of Health of Populations. This publication grew out of the work of the Population Health Program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. No concise definition of the term appears in this volume, although its authors state the concept’s “linking thread the common focus on trying to understand the determinants of health of populations.

Recently, even in the United States, the term is being more widely used, but often without clarification of its meaning and definition. While this development might be seen as a useful movement in a new and positive direction, increased use without proper definition could have a lasting negative effect. Kindig has suggested a definition: population health is “the aggregate health outcome of health-adjusted life expectancy (quantity and quality) of a group of individuals, in an economic framework that balances the relative marginal returns from the multiple determinants of health. This definition proposes a specific unit of measure of population health and also includes consideration of the relative cost-effectiveness of resource allocation to multiple determinants.

One way to improve population health is to improve various outcome measures. So when speaking of Ways to Improve Outcomes in Population Health it is best to understand what outcome measure are. According to the World Health Organization, an outcome measure is a change in the health of an individual, group of people or population that is attributable to an intervention or series of intervention. This could include mortality rate, readmission, patient experience, etc. Healthcare organizations constantly seek to meet and improve quality and costs targets. These outcome measures are frequently reported to the government, investors, and quality auditing organizations that specialize in hospital safety and quality performance. This process ensures a maintenance and increases in transparency among health care providers in order to reduce unwanted outcomes such as mortality, accidents and human errors in hospitals. In addition to the prevention of these negative outcomes, quality measures also help, improve patient experience of care, improve the health of populations and reduce the per capita cost of healthcare.

Whatever the level of definition of health being employed, however, it is important to distinguish this from the question of the determinants of that definition of health. The Health Promotion and Programs Branch of Health Canada has recently stated that “the overall goal of a population health approach is to maintain and improve the health of the entire population and to reduce inequalities in health between population groups.

They indicate that one guiding principle of a population health approach is an increased focus on health outcomes as opposed to just inputs, processes, and products. There is also an increased focus on determining the degree of change that can actually be attributed to our work. Committee on Population Health, write that “population health refers to the health of a population as measured by health status indicators and as influenced by social, economic, and physical environments, personal health practices, individual capacity and coping skills, human biology, early childhood development, and health services.

As an approach, population health usually focuses on interrelated conditions and factors that influence the health of populations over the life course, identifies systematic variations in their patterns of occurrence, and applies the resulting knowledge to develop and implement policies and actions to improve the health and well being of those populations.