Population Health: Current Dilemmas

What is “Population Health?”

According to Nash et al (2011) population health is a healthcare approach that focuses on how healthcare is distributed, as well as the influences and outcomes of healthcare. The emphasis of population health is to improve healthcare in a way that is ultimately more beneficial to patients, and it seeks to accomplish this by finding ways to improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare. The major attributes of population health consist of a patient-centered approach: improved access and coordination of primary care providers, integration of multiple health systems, improved guidelines for quality of care, cultural and linguistic education, and improved health information technology access for patients (Nash et al, 2011). The idea behind the patient-centered approach is to enable individuals to be more involved in their own healthcare, so control is shifted more to the patient instead of the providers.

Healthcare Disparities

Healthcare disparities exist because healthcare quality and access are not equal across the entire population. Population health addresses these disparities by identifying determinants of all levels and using models to introduce positive change. Warnecke et al (2008) wrote that population-level determinants consist of “aggregate poverty, education levels, gender and racial/ethnic distributions, and patterns of segregation” while individual-level determinants include “income, educational attainment, behavior, heredity, and genes” (p. 1610). Population health addresses these specific determinants of disparities by using models aimed at each determinant. For instance, models targeting the individual seek to address modifiable traits of the individual that can change their health.


Healthcare Initiatives

Population health has helped to support state and national health needs interventions by establishing the National Priorities Partnership (NPP) and Healthy People programs. These initiatives were established with the goals of improving population health by increasing quality and access to healthcare, promoting illness and disease prevention, and reducing harm and waste in the healthcare system. According to the National Quality Forum (2013), the NPP is “a partnership of 52 major national organizations with a shared vision to achieve better health, and a safe, equitable, and value-driven healthcare system” (para. 1). The NPP accomplishes this by working together to uphold the values of the National Quality Strategy, which provides goals that direct and support measures to improve healthcare quality. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (2012), the Healthy People program gathers and monitors health data to “encourage collaborations across communities and sectors, empower individuals toward making informed health decisions, [and] measure the impact of prevention activities” for the ultimate goal of improving health, quality of life, and well-being (para. 1). The program has been adopted at the state and county level, and encourages any size organization or establishment to adopt the program framework.


While these initiatives and health models are effective for improving awareness and education in areas such as healthcare resources, illness and disease prevention, and healthier living, they are insufficient at addressing one of the greatest disparities in healthcare today: cost. In the future, population health must take a stronger stance on finding ways to reduce healthcare costs so that prevention and treatment are more affordable for the average individual.


Nash, D., Reifsnyder, R. F., & Pracilio, V. (2011). Population health: Creating a culture of wellness. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

National Quality Forum. (2013). National priorities partnership. Retrieved from https://www.qualityforum.org/Setting_Priorities/NPP/National_Priorities_Partnership.aspx

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2012). About healthy people. Retrieved from http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/about/default.aspx

Warnecke et al. (2008). Approaching health disparities from a population perspective: The national institutes of health centers for population health and health disparities. American Journal of Public Health, 98(9), 1608-1615. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/article


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