Improving public health takes more than clinical care and services. It also requires public health care policies and treatment plans informed by population health data. To build healthier communities, health care advocates and practitioners would do well to focus on ways that promote wellness and disease prevention. Many health care experts see population health as an indispensable tool. Why is population health so important? The population health approach expands the focus from individuals to population groups in a larger context. This bird’s-eye view of population health helps build healthier communities.
Understanding population health and how to apply it to health promotion and education requires the right education. An online Bachelor of Science in Nursing can cultivate a deep understanding of population health that’s essential to health educators and others working to improve health.
What Is Population Health?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines population health as an “interdisciplinary, customizable approach that allows health departments to connect practice to policy for change to happen locally.”
To break down the meaning, it’s first important to understand that this health care approach focuses on the health outcomes of groups of people. Rather than looking at the health outcome of an individual in isolation, population health considers an individual’s health outcome in a larger context. Patients belong to population groups. Often population groups refer to geographic populations or communities. However, they can also refer to population groups based on race, socioeconomic status or ethnicity, among other factors.
Population health considers the average health outcomes for these groups. In this way, population health experts can compare how diseases and illnesses occur in different groups according to age, gender or location. For example, population health can shed light on the differences in respiratory health between construction workers and office workers, or compare the frequency of disease between the vaccinated and unvaccinated. Such information helps health care professionals make more informed treatment decisions and improve the overall health of populations. Considering the distribution of health outcomes throughout a community also helps population health experts pinpoint a population’s segments that need attention.
Key aspects of population health include the following:
- Focusing on how to keep people healthy instead of concentrating on illness
- Using data to improve care
- Involving patients in their own treatment
- Adopting a holistic approach that coordinates care and avoids fragmented treatment
Population Health Partnerships and Public Health
Population health builds partnerships between several segments of the community, including local government, academia, health care providers and public health organizations. These partnerships promote better health outcomes. Population health experts work with local medical facilities and agencies, studying patients in specific groups to understand health outcomes, improve research and make decisions about local policies.
To understand population health, it’s important to distinguish it from public health. Though the two work in tandem, population health and public health refer to different things. Public health examines the medical conditions of a large group of people. Population health seeks to understand the medical issues and health conditions of individuals belonging to specific communities. Both, however, seek to address health disparities and use preventive health as a tool to build healthier societies.
The Importance of Population Health
Why is focusing on population important? Population health has the potential to significantly improve the public’s overall health. By helping experts better understand the conditions in various populations, population health allows meaningful advances to take place in health care.
Population Health Research
Population health matters because it encourages research on health issues that affect populations of certain ages, genders, occupations or ethnicities. In the battle to address health disparities resulting from socioeconomic differences and other factors that may determine people’s health, research makes a big difference.
Many factors influence the health of population groups. For example, poor air quality may affect those living in low-income neighborhoods, whereas those living in affluent communities may breathe cleaner air. For society to address these inequities, collecting hard data is a crucial first step.
Population health research can also improve access to care, as it helps identify who may be at risk for different illnesses and facilitate early interventions. When people get treatment early — rather than during emergency situations due to neglect — they tend to have better outcomes.
Understanding Health Risks
Studying population health helps identify the health risks people may be facing. Knowledge of health risks serves as a powerful tool for improving health outcomes.
Population health provides insight into who’s at risk for what, thereby improving medical care providers’ understanding of different patient populations. In turn, providers can better target people for treatment and create customized care plans. They can also allocate their resources more effectively by keeping needed medicines in stock, having the required staff on hand and taking other measures.
Pursuing a Career in Health Education
Nursing students interested in population health can consider pursuing health education careers. Health educators leverage population health tools to promote preventive care by educating communities and populations about health issues and risks. For example, by using population health research, health educators can identify populations most at risk of diabetes or certain types of cancers. They can then educate those in high-risk categories about how to alter their diets or the importance of diagnostic tests and scans that offer early detection.
Health educators have many responsibilities. A comprehensive knowledge of population health can prove invaluable for fulfilling those responsibilities.
Assessing Health Needs
Health educators assess the needs of the populations they work with. This involves systematically identifying their health needs, determining which needs aren’t being met and finding solutions to ensure that they are.
Population health research helps health educators make accurate assessments. By identifying the trends across a group, health educators can better target a community’s needs. By considering the individual and the group, health educators can also come up with the best strategies to promote health.
Conducting Research and Developing Educational Materials
In addition to assessing community health needs, health educators conduct research and develop educational materials. This research can meaningfully contribute to the knowledge of the health care community and how it promotes health or implements preventive care across different populations.
Additionally, population health expertise can help educators develop the most appropriate materials for various population segments, addressing health risks more effectively and raising levels of health in general.
The Value of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Aspiring Health Educators
A nursing student interested in becoming a health educator can earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to qualify for the role. BSN degree programs offer courses in population health, health care policy and information management. The curriculum builds the analytical and research skills needed to successfully carry out a health educator’s work.
Launch Your Career in Population Health
Medical care providers and health educators alike appreciate why population health is so important. Whether developing health promotion initiatives or conducting health research, the population health approach offers important insights that improve health outcomes for specific groups.
Discover how Rider University’s online Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program helps aspiring health educators pursue their professional goals as population health experts.
Advanced Data Systems Corporation, “Why Is Population Health Important?”
American Medical Association, “What Is Meant by Population Health—and Why It Matters”
American Public Health Association, Public Health Education and Health Promotion
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, What Is Population Health?
CSuite Solutions, “What is Population Health Management? And Why Is It Important?”
New York State Department of Health, Making New York the Healthiest State: Achieving the Triple Aim
Truity, Health Educator or Community Health Worker
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Health Educators and Community Health Workers